Self-protection spree

2015-10-03 08:00
Kevin John from the Mi7 Security Hyperstore in Pietermaritzburg poses with some of the equipment sold at his shop.

Kevin John from the Mi7 Security Hyperstore in Pietermaritzburg poses with some of the equipment sold at his shop. (Ian Carbutt)

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Pietermaritzburg - Hamstrung by the difficulty in buying guns, KZN residents are taking their safety into their own hands by purchasing non-lethal weapons to ward off criminals.

Security companies have reported increasing sales of air rifles and gas and paintball guns to average citizens over the past few months, with most customers buying the weapons for personal protection.

The crime statistics released earlier this week showed a decline in burglaries in residential areas and car-jacking at a provincial level. However, some towns have shown staggeringly higher rates of such crimes.

In the period between April 2014 and March 2015, the Alexandra Road area in Pietermaritzburg experienced an 18,4% spike in home burglaries, burglaries in Estcourt increased by 42,2% and almost 1 000 Hillcrest residents reported being victims of home intrusions.

The wave of crime has prompted residents to find ways to defend themselves instead of relying only on expensive alarm systems and the reaction times of the police.

Lee Geldenhuys, manager at a security shop in the KZN Midlands, said “quite a few people” have come into his business to purchase non-lethal weapons, most of them claiming to have done so for self-protection purposes.

Geldenhuys said most customers bought paintball guns and air rifles, because these are sold over the counter without going through the drawn-out process of acquiring a firearm permit.

“Some of the guns look real, but inflict much less damage. Some customers use them as a criminal deterrent, others as hobby guns to learn how to shoot, and some farmers purchase them to ward off pests,” he said.

Security Hyperstore marketing head Ahmed Kajee said his business is doing a similarly good trade, with the cheaper guns mostly bought for self-defence and the more expensive guns used for sport and recreation.

As well as firearms, Kajee said other items like pepper spray and stun devices also appeal to people.

He said there has been a noticeable increase in the sale of these guns and devices, with positive feedback from happy customers.

“Customers say the guns have prevented hijackings and burglaries,” Kajee said.

A Prestbury resident, who asked not to be named, said he would rather shoot an intruder with a gas gun than a real gun. He said he recently bought one to be prepared for this eventuality, especially in light of increasing break-ins in the area.

“If you shoot an intruder with a proper gun and kill him, you will be in big trouble with the police. With a gas gun, you will hopefully give the intruder enough of a fright that he will flee your home.”

However, some institutions have warned against buying the weapons.
Gunfree South Africa’s Claire Taylor said her organisation has lobbied for the prohibition of air and gas guns because they “are difficult to distinguish from real firearms”.

“These guns are also used in crimes,” she said.

Prem Balram, director of security company Reaction Unit South Africa, said he knows of people who have been shot dead by authorities as a result of pointing gas guns.

“It’s one thing to have a look-alike gun for protection at home, but it can backfire badly when you are confronted by somebody with a real gun who cannot distinguish if yours is real or not,” he said.

EVEN though gas guns and air rifles are available over the counter, there are still various laws which govern their usage.
The Dangerous Weapons Act of 2013, prohibiting the possession of dangerous weapons, replicas or imitations in public, came into operation in January last year.
It includes air rifles and gas guns, as well as “any object, other than a firearm, capable of causing death or inflicting serious bodily harm” in its definition of a “dangerous weapon”.
However, the clause prohibiting the use of the weapons in public does not apply to the following:
• possession of dangerous weapons in pursuit of any lawful employment, duty or activity;
• possession of dangerous weapons during participation in any religious or cultural activities, or lawful sport, recreation or entertainment; and
• the legitimate collection, display or exhibition of weapons.
The act makes provision for people found in possession of dangerous weapons under circumstances where there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the weapons were to be used for unlawful purposes, to be fined or imprisoned for up to three years.

The police were approached for comment on the laws pertaining to the usage of air rifles and gas guns, but were unable to comment by the print deadline yesterday.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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