‘We don’t need rifles at all, not even the R5’

2014-07-01 00:00

WHY do private security guards need military-style assault rifles on our streets?

According to South Africa’s gun lobby, the heavy calibre R1 rifles are “absolutely necessary” — in case a guard is ever charged by an elephant. And the company best known for using them in Durban claims the mere sight of them prevents criminals from starting violence.

Despite an investigation driven by KZN’s safety MEC and the security regulator into whether private security guards need, and can handle, heavy-calibre rifles, R1 weapons have become an increasingly common sight on Durban’s commuter routes.

Meanwhile, one leading company insists that “we don’t need rifles at all, not even the R5 — we think the MEC [Willies Mchunu] is right to be concerned about them, and we would be happy to do without all rifles”.

Martin Hood, spokesperson for the South African Gun Owners Association, said the involvement of security companies in some anti-poaching operations required the high-velocity guns.

“You’d need these rifles to stop an elephant or buffalo if it charged during an operation — an R5 wouldn’t be able to protect you,” he said. “Some of these are licensed to protect ships at sea. And it’s not true to say the police don’t use them — in the border areas of Lesotho, for instance, SAPS members need R1s because of the distances involved.”

Durban’s Blue Ocean Security Services is one of the few firms to arm its members with the heavy rifles and to train them in their handling. They also stock even more powerful .50 calibre weapons, but claim none of these are “deployed”.

Hood said, “It is very, very rare to hear of a licence being issued for a .50 calibre weapon, and I will certainly say these would be inappropriate for an urban environment. But in terms of R1s, the simple fact is that these weapons are licensed for security by the SAPS. They are legal.”

Veteran Durban bodyguard and former policeman Eddie Thompson has survived a total of seven gunshot wounds and two stabbings. He told The Witness: “Why do we need any rifles, let alone R1s? — our company has stopped deploying rifles for the past month in answer to the MEC’s concerns, and we’ve probably gained in terms of public trust. The key problem is that police are trained to watch their backgrounds when engaging a suspect, to make sure no one else is hit, but a lot of guys have no idea of when not to shoot.”

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