Stand and deliver your arms

2014-11-23 15:00

About 18 years ago, this lowly newspaperman was the victim of a car hijacking. It was the first and only crime incident I have experienced in this great, big, beautiful city called Johannesburg – the city God created on the eighth day after enjoying a good day’s rest.

During the hijacking, the criminals demanded money, valuables and ... the gun.

When I told them I did not have a gun, they refused to believe me. Prodding me with their pistols, they shouted and swore at my mother and her female forebears.

They made off with my car and whatever possessions I had on me. It was a traumatic incident, the kind that only a 12-pack of lager and a double tot of Scotland’s finest could cure.

Besides leaving scars – which were quickly healed with the consumption of said liquids – the incident left me with the unshakable conviction that I would never own a gun.

While most people react to crime incidents by arming themselves, mine was to develop a deep aversion for these killing machines. Shattered victims often go for shooting lessons, acquire powerful firearms and wait for the day they will get a chance to blast a hole in someone’s torso.

In my case, the incident made me realise the futility of owning a gun. I reasoned that if I had had a gun on my person that day, there was absolutely nothing I would have been able to do with it.

I would never have had the time to draw it, cock it and aim it. If I had tried, this would have prompted them to shoot me before I shot them.

But the harder fact was that once they had overwhelmed me and fled with my car and the gun, I would have donated another weapon to the criminal cause.

This type of donation is something South Africa’s legal gun owners do all the time.

Every illegal gun in the hand of a criminal is a gun that was once a legal gun in the hands of a licensed firearm owner. It was most likely stolen from the home of the individual, lost by the individual or forcefully taken from the individual in a violent crime incident.

So, as a gun hater, I applauded when SA Football Association president Danny Jordaan announced that the organisation would be spearheading a campaign to destroy illegal guns in the country.

The campaign, through which owners of illegal guns will be encouraged to hand them to the authorities, was prompted by the murder of Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa. The idea is to destroy the guns and use the metal to build a statue of Meyiwa – a way of honouring the national hero, but also to remind us of the damage that guns do in our society.

It is a noble idea, but one that is hugely unambitious. Why stop at illegal guns? Why should we only want to get rid of illegal guns instead of all guns? Before we decide to focus only on illegal guns, we must deal with the fact that they were once legal firearms. That before they fell into the hands of the criminals, they were supposed to serve as protection for good people.

A more ambitious and imaginative project would be to rid society of all guns, including those that are in the hands of civilians.

If South Africa is to solve the problem of gun violence – committed by criminals and non-criminals – we should be trying to get to a situation where the only people permitted to handle guns are security forces and accredited security companies. Exceptions could be made for hunting rifles.

In this way, we will be better able to police the presence of guns in our society. We will know that any gun in the possession of a private individual is an illegal gun. Criminals would be wary of leaving their homes carrying guns.

This may sound fanciful and difficult to implement, but so are most new laws and regulations. The same was said of smoking laws when they were first proposed in the mid-1990s.

Today you cannot imagine there was once a time when that vermin species called smokers polluted our homes, office spaces, buses, aeroplanes and restaurants. They now have to freeze in the bitter winter cold and brave the summer rains when they want to embark on their suicide missions.

We need to do the same with guns. We have to get to a point where South Africans hate guns and regard them to be as evil as cigarettes.

Changing the country’s gun culture needs a similarly ambitious mind-set. This will be a hard sell in a country in which guns were worshipped as an instrument of liberation by a section of the population and an instrument of securing superiority by another section of the population.

In a country in which people believe that guns are the first line of defence against a rampaging criminal army, there will be massive resistance to the disarming of the general populace. You can anticipate marches, freeway blockades and court challenges – that should be expected in a democratic country. But gun lovers will have to be convinced that the killer accoutrements are not extensions of their being.

So Danny, let’s get ambitious about this and let us disarm the entire nation.

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