It is quite clear from the current debate around firearms ownership that we are dealing with three distinct thought patterns. On the one side you have part of the population who are anti-firearm, in the middle you have those individuals undecided on or disinterested in the matter and on the other side the proponents for the legal ownership of firearms.
Before we go any further let me declare that I am on the side of the group who are for legal gun ownership and I do in fact own four firearms. My background has a lot to do with this because I grew up in an environment where firearms were always present in the home, albeit always locked away in a safe when not in use. My father, grandfathers and great grandfathers all own/ owned firearms in various forms ranging from rifles to handguns. A large number of my other family as well as friends also own firearms and yet none of these people have ever been convicted of firearms related offences nor have any of them ever had their licenses revoked due to criminal behaviour.
A common theme with this group is the fact they are all normal well-adjusted people with jobs ranging from farmers to chartered accountants, mostly with spouses and children of their own. On a personal level I too have a good position in a company as well as a wife, child, two dogs and a home to call my own. Certainly I do not own firearms as a means to dominate or intimidate any person and the firearms owners I know feel much the same.
Very few, normally law-abiding citizens, will sacrifice their lifestyle willingly by becoming a criminal. What needs to be understood about legal firearms owners is that the vast majority of them want to lead normal lives within the parameters set out by the law of the country as well as accepted community norms. These are not the people you should be afraid of as they pose no greater risk to you and/ or your family than any other law-abiding citizen.
A lot has been said about Oscar Pistorius. He admits to shooting and killing Reeva and the court will decide his fate and level of guilt but the debate around whether or not she would still be alive had he not been in possession of a firearm will continue for some time.
My personal opinion about the matter is this: A normal firearm owner would never have walked out of that restaurant a free man when he negligently discharged the firearm. That alone was a clear sign that he is incompetent to own a firearm and the event took place long before that fateful night when Reeva paid the ultimate price. He got away with a serious transgression of the law because of his celebrity.
If only one person had actually done the right thing and reported him or opened a case against him he would almost definitely have been found incompetent to own firearms and would have had to surrender them to the police. Whether this would have stopped him from killing Reeva we will never know with 100% certainty because he would still have had access to knives, cricket bats and other tools, including his hands which can, under the wrong circumstances, be used as deadly weapons. Conjecture will get no one anywhere but blaming an inanimate object, in this case a firearm for the actions of its user is like blaming a motor vehicle for the actions of a reckless or drunk driver killing someone.
Why should a law-abiding citizen be allowed to own firearms? The question should rather be why not? As stated earlier the vast majority of legal firearms owners are not at all the trigger happy, wife-beating thugs some organisations portray them to be. Far from it, the vast majority of firearms owners are in fact peace loving individuals who will go out of their way to avoid conflict or any form of criminal behaviour if they can at all help it.
Taking legal firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens will do nothing to curb violent crime in South Africa. Criminals do not operate under the same set of rules as normal people. By their very nature they do not care about breaking the law and to be quite blunt their access to firearms will not be eliminated by a ban on legal firearms as they can always get what they need from the military, Police, other sources across the border or even by manufacturing the arms themselves. What a ban on firearms ownership will do however is to ensure criminals can act with impunity, safe in the knowledge they will not encounter meaningful resistance from their intended victims who will have to submit to any form of abuse or sick torture they choose to inflict. In essence a ban on legal firearms ownership will transfer all power into the hands of the criminal.
What about the police, I hear you say. Aren’t they there to serve and protect? Yes they are but when you are being held up and beaten in your home or hi-jacked on your way to work the chances of a policeman being able to assist you or even aware of your predicament is slim to none. Crime wouldn’t exist if the police were able to prevent it from happening.
Well what if you just comply with the instructions of your attackers? Surely they will show you mercy and compassion by not hurting you or your family if you just do what they say, won’t they? I am afraid I cannot agree with this. On a weekly basis you can read in the press about women being gang raped, people being tortured with hot irons and boiling water during house invasions and hi-jacking incidences where the vehicle owner is shot even when he/ she offers no resistance. With criminals there is no guarantee of “good” behaviour if you comply, their intentions during an attack on you or your family has nothing good about them and I reiterate an earlier statement that criminals do not operate within the accepted norms of polite society.
How does owning a firearm for self-defense help me? It helps because a firearm allows you to retaliate with equal force whether you are young and fit or old and frail. It takes away the criminals’ power over you so you can become the victor instead of the victim. It is however also important to note that owning a firearm comes with the responsibility of changing your attitude.
Training in the use of firearms and regular practice should become part of your routine. Regular training under simulated stress conditions will allow you to make the right decision and act decisively when or if a life-threatening situation should occur. You have to become more aware of your surroundings. You have to learn to walk away from petty squabbles and be even more polite towards your fellow human beings. You need to understand that a firearm is not a magic wand and that the act of pulling a firearm on someone has dire consequences if the situation does not absolutely call for doing so. A firearm is not a tool to be used until every avenue of escape has been exhausted. You shouldn’t own a firearm with the intent of being or becoming some sort of hero and it must never be used to intimidate any person. Remember, your actions will have an effect on all other firearms owners and they will have little time for anyone who acts irresponsibly with a firearm.
In closing I want to say the following: Firearms are no more dangerous than a motor vehicle, both have the capacity to kill if they are in the wrong hands and what needs to be understood is the fact that a firearm, just like a vehicle has no will of its own and just like a vehicle it needs to be manipulated with intent or gross negligence in order to inflict harm on another person.