Gun Ownership: Good or bad?

Gun Ownership: Good or bad?Ndifuna Ukwazi – DARE TO KNOW

by Stephanie Hale


Controversy over a citizen’s right to own a gun has become a worldwide issue. From people in the United States using the constitutional provision allowing for protection against the government as justification for gun ownership, to people in South Africa using the extremely high crime rate as validation, it is evident that gun possession has become a real problem.gun-control-in-america


After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in an upper middle class town in Connecticut, a tragedy killing 20 children and 7 adults, gun policy in the United States has come under fire. The United States has the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders of all developed countries, with a rate of 3.2 gun related deaths per 100,00 people. Shockingly, Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a person from any other developed country in the world. What may be even more shocking is by how much South Africa trumps the United States in this category.

South Africa faces 17 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the United States’ 3.2. However, South Africa does beat the US in fewer homicides by guns. Just over 67 percent of homicides in the US are committed by a firearm, compared to South Africa’s 45 percent. Regardless of the numbers, these statistics show one clear trend: guns are far too often the cause of death in countries all around the world, regardless of its economic position.


So why do people own guns in the first place? Because many South Africans face constant and pervasive crime on a day-to-day basis, citizens feel that the only adequate protection is owning a firearm.  However, in lieu of the recent Oscar Pistorius case, perhaps firearm regulation in South Africa needs to be reassessed.


South African law dictates that licensed firearm owners are permitted to possess one firearm per firearm license. In addition to the licensed 9mm Parabellum pistol allegedly used to kill Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend, police also found a machine gun in his house. Pistorius did not possess the necessary license to have such a weapon, so how did it come to be in his residence?


In a recent 2011 interview, Pistorius claimed that he slept with a machine gun and pistol in his bedroom because of the high crime rate prevalent in South Africa. However, police records show that when he first applied for the 9mm firearm in 2008, he was initially denied. He then appealed the decision in 2010 and was approved to carry this one weapon. It is not clear why the application was initially denied but it makes us examine whether this man should have been in the possession of guns in his house at all, especially since he was first denied such a right. Thus, it is crucial to take a look at gun regulation in South Africa when so many citizens follow Pistorius’ attitude towards how to ensure one’s safety.


            South Africa has a population of 50 million. 6 million of these citizens own guns- an astonishing 12 percent of the population. Many of these weapons are illegally-owned and are justified as tools for personal security. While gun regulation is quite strict, with people applying for gun licenses forced to undergo rigorous background checks, the implementation of such regulatory standards proves to fall short. Alan Storey, chairman of the anti-firearm group, Gun Free South Africa, says it best: “We’ve got good gun legislation. What has been less than perfect has been the implementation of that gun legislation.”


This breakdown in gun regulation can be explained by the huge backlog in gun license applications. This puts the body administering licenses under pressure, often leading to negligence. This negligence can lead to the issuing of licenses to individuals who should not carry weaponry. A prime example of such carelessness occurred in March 2012. Despite confessing to the 2005 murder of mining tycoon Brett Kebble, Mikey Schultz and Nigel McGurk were reissued firearm licenses in 2012. How did these two men pass the gun license check on past episodes of violence?


This negligence, however, is not the only avenue for people to come to own firearms. Gun Owners of South Africa executive Wouter de Waal says that, “The state attempts to control guns…On the other hand it’s dead easy to buy an AK-47 off the streets. That’s the problem with gun control. It only controls law-abiding people”. With around 2,000 guns stolen from legal gun owners per month in South Africa, the state needs to clamp down on the amount of guns in this country and subsequently the means for acquiring these guns.


While it is true that South Africans face constant and real threats of crime, fear cannot make way to paranoia. Pretty soon each gun will simply justify the possession of another gun, an endless cycle that could eventually lead to every citizen feeling as if owning a gun is not only a necessity, but a way of life. Any society, regardless of which country it is in, does not become safer when everyone posses a weapon. Instead, the risks resulting from such firearms vastly increases. We must ask ourselves, is the ability to own a firearm veering from simply a personal choice to a matter of life or death for citizens around the world?

*South Africa’s lower rate of gun related homicides (45 percent compared to the United States’ 67) can be linked to The South African Firearms Control Act enacted in 2000. It was designed to create a more rigorous firearm control process and create specific policing actions to reduce firearms crime and violence. Data shows that there has been a significant decrease in number of firearm related deaths and injuries in South Africa since the inception of this bill. South Africa is clearly making strides in reducing gun violence, but more work still needs to be done.

  1. No one (even Sylvester Stallone) needs a machine gun for self-defense. See also this recent story in the Mail & Guardian about gun ownership in South Africa:

  2. Ready this article leads me to believe that If the custodians of country creates an environment for its people to feel that it is more onerous to own a gun than the benefits it provides then maybe we move closer to a solution?

    • Since the benefits can include “saving your life”, people will go through a lot for that.

      In fact, I often wonder how many illegal firearms are out there not for other criminal purposes, but merely for simple self defence by people who find the onerous and opaque system in place to be intimidating. Streamlining that would be the logical way to reduce that segment of illegal guns; by bringing those people “into the fold” and giving them a vested interest in the system instead of making it the enemy.

  3. According to Statistics South Africa, less than two percent of Sputh Africa’s homicides were committed by people using firearms in their last release. Please amend this article accordingly.

    Further, contrary to the claim in the article, the current Firearms Control Act was enacted in 2004, which co-incides with the end of the early 2000s decline in homicide rate. Please amend the date as well.

  4. Further, having cone through the news reports relating to the Pistorius trial, I can find no evidence of a machine gun at all. Please clarify.

  5. I don’t really agree with your premise that a society does not become safer when everyone posses a weapon.

    Switzerland is an example of a peaceful and safe society where a lot of people own firearms, including automatic rifles which they keep at their own homes.

    One of the reasons why Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland, which he hated and described as “a pimple on the face of Europe” and actually had already drawn up plans to invade (see is very likely the fact that about 20% of the adult male Swiss population was trained and armed with rifles.

    Owning and shooting guns is already a way of life for many people in South Africa. For some of them it has been for a long time, going back for generations.

    Many of these folks are normal peace-loving people who are active and positive contributors to society.

    We don’t have a gun problem in South Africa; we have a moral problem.

  6. The fundamental problem with “gun control” is that it views specifically “gun violence” as a major problem. This is illogical thinking. All violence is a problem, full stop. Notice how the article celebrates a decrease in gun violence while tactfully omitting the issue that violence in general has not decreased – in fact, it has increased in the last few years. In other words, making guns harder to own has done little to make SA a safer country, and may even have harmed the cause.

    Furthermore, if I get attacked in my home by a knife – wielding burglar, and I am forced to shoot him dead, does that incident get classified as “gun violence”? In other words, I strongly suspect that legitimate use of firearms used to protect one’s life, are being lumped together with robberies and murders.

    Responsible firearm use and carry is a response to crime.

    Reduce CRIME and you will see gun ownership go down.

    I myself do not really enjoy carrying an uncomfortable firearm every day, but I feel forced to due to the tsunami of crime that is sweeping our country.

  7. What a rubbish article.
    More Gun Free South Africa dribble.
    The recent crime stats clearly show that more people die from sharp objects than guns.
    Why is Knife-Free-South Africa not joining the cause?
    Legal guns are responsible for less than 0.016% of deaths.
    It is a social issue, not a gun issue.
    Maybe the ANC must declare all their weapon piles before focusing on legal gun ownership.
    You probably all have ARMED RESPONCE.
    You and your families safety is in your own hands!

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