State must take up the gauntlet

2013-02-17 10:00

The death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of Olympian and sporting legend Oscar Pistorius has shocked South Africa and the world at large.

It is too soon to judge. The details of what happened will only be known in time. What is not contested, however, is that Pistorius shot Steenkamp in his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day.

Along with domestic violence, and particularly violence against women in South Africa, this tragic case highlights the need for a stricter gun accessing regime than we have at present.

There are simply too many guns and some of them in the hands of people who will cause more harm than good.

It is not hard to see why many South Africans will believe that having a gun increases their chances of being safe.

The need for one’s personal and family safety, and the ease with which so many South Africans resort to violence to solve their interpersonal problems, have the nation on the horns of a dilemma.

The high levels of violent crime in South Africa – where criminals have no hesitation violating our homes and making off with our hard-earned goods, or desecrating our bodies by their vulgar abuse of our bodily integrity – make the case for the pro-gun lobby a hard one to ignore.

On the other hand, every crime stat report since the SA Police Service started releasing these shows that most murders are committed by people known to the victims and often when the perpetrator and the victim had been socialising together.

For as long as South Africans do not feel adequately protected by the state, the belief in the necessity of personal ownership of guns will be a hard one to dismantle.

But far more important than appealing to the sensibilities of critics, the police have a constitutional obligation to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.

The state must, through the police, “prevent, combat and investigate crime; maintain public order; protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property; and uphold and enforce the law”.

If at any stage the state fails to live up to these obligations, it becomes an accessory to fomenting the rule of the jungle, where those with bigger guns dominate those with smaller guns or those who have none.

The state must rise up to the twin challenge of reducing the levels of crime, especially of a violent nature, and reducing the proliferation of guns.

One need not wait for the other.

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