Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Pistorius and the unfinished gun ownership debate

When Oscar Pistorius first entered the courtroom where he stood accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the case raised great interest. It was followed online, on radio and even watched on TV, where it received a lot of coverage. While some see the spotlight put on gun ownership by the trial as nothing but the “negligent actions of but one famous public figure”, recent headlines evidence that the problem is much deeper than that.

Some of the headlines found in an interactive map by Gun Free South Africa show the latest gun violence incidents reported in selected media include:

– Two-year-old KZN toddler shot by 6-year-old dies in hospital
– Man accidentally shoots his 8-year-old daughter in the head
– Woman shoots husband, mistaking him for burglar
– Enraged landlord shoots tenants, kills mother over loud music

All the above mentioned incidents were enabled by people being in possession of a gun, showing that if the gun had not been there the outcomes for everyone would have been very different.

According to Adele Kirsten, an independent small arms control analyst: “There is good evidence that one of the most effective violence prevention interventions is to strengthen national gun laws. Since the introduction of SA’s Firearms Control Act in 2000, there has been a 50% reduction in gun deaths, from 34 a day in 1994, to 18 a day in 2009. Evidence that South Africa’s Firearms Control Act (2000) has saved thousands of lives has been presented. The research, which was published in the March 2014 edition of the reputable American Journal of Public Health, shows that more than 4 500 lives were saved from gun violence in five SA cities between 2001 and 2005.”

In a CNN interview she goes on to share how there is overwhelming evidence globally that having a gun in the home increases the risk for injury and death through suicide, intimate partner violence and accidental death, noting that “in South Africa, there is relative certainty that a gun will be taken from its’ owner in an armed robbery, feeding the illegal market”.

Based on research, Gun Free South Africa says that in South Africa a civilian gun owner is up to four times as likely to have their gun stolen than to use it in self-defence. This is affirmed by research undertaken between 2006 and 2009 by the Institute of Security Studies, which showed that “armed gangs often targeted homes where owners were believed to have guns in their possession, in order to steal them”, putting more people at risk of becoming victims of gun violence.

While many people cite South Africa’s high rate of violent crime as a reason to own a gun, there is no doubt that the gun ownership debate should be extended beyond personal protection to focusing on the potentially deadly consequences thereof — as highlighted by the tragic shooting of Steenkamp among many others.

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