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Guns do kill people

One often hears the quote “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” being used in support of the pro-gun lobby. This quote is partially true (people kill people) but very misleading as it displaces the very real role of technology in the killing.

Guns do kill people and are designed to do so. Look at the horrific school shootings that occurred in the US. These shootings, without fail, used very specific types of firearms. These weapons are specifically designed to kill lots of people with ease. And so they do. Any pistol that holds a dozen bullets and can be reloaded in mere seconds is designed specifically for interpersonal combat at close range. Such a tool is not recreational in nature but a killing machine.

This is not misplaced animism, but an acknowledgement of the role of tools that within a specific context do the very task they are designed to do. One may argue that these damaged and sick individuals are to blame, and not the weapons of choice, because they would have found a way to kill people regardless. And perhaps they would have, but they wouldn’t have been able to kill so many so quickly.

These violent tools also replicate a culture of violence whereby one is in a position to even begin to think of such a tool. Any society that saturates itself with such tools and the language (discourse) that accompanies it is setting itself up for a future of such attacks — they are part of the cultural package.

The role of symbols — of culture — in such attacks and in violence in general needs to be acknowledged. What comes first? The violent rhetoric? Or the violent tools? I think they are created together and build on each other. If a tool is created that can hold 12 rounds and be reloaded in seconds and then becomes part of the acceptable repertoire of available tools, it creates the conditions for horrific acts to be done. In South Africa, the tools are readily available and it is deemed to be acceptable to have them in the house, in the shop and on one’s person. A culture of violence permeated with violent tools.

Removing the tools and changing the available tools can go a long way. The notion that if the criminals are armed we need to be armed to defend ourselves is to condemn society to an internal arms race. I do believe in strict gun control and the scrapping of these tools from public circulation. Items such as hunting rifles should be allowed under strict criteria of training and storage as well as limits on what constitutes a hunting rifle — no magazines of more than three rounds for example.

If the tools are removed the very way they are thought of changes. I personally think this is the difference between American gun violence and the very paucity of the same in Canada.

Guns are readily available in Canada and only recently has there been a system created to regulate them. No pistols or assault rifles were allowed or even available and the penalties for having them were severe.

In Africa violent crime is far too prevalent and the tools to commit atrocities are often far too accessible. So I do argue for strict gun control in South Africa (in fact the world). Naysayers will claim they need to defend themselves against the well-armed thugs. I still say this logic is flawed and dooms society to an internal arms race. The harsh reality faced by people that decide to defend themselves is that the criminals are more likely to use violent force. Most people will not willingly shoot another human.

Guns play a large part in facilitating crime and making certain crimes possible. For sure the guns are already in the hands of the criminals, but the step is not to further arm people.

The changes required are to make violent weapons and the very thought of them repugnant. The laws must also reflect this attitude with harsh sentences and there must be programmes designed to scrap weapons and disarm society.


  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.