Donna Stephen

Gun free or gun fret?

2005-03-18 09:48

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The issue of gun ownership, in any country, is always a contentious one, leading to fiery debate.

There are those who say who say guns kill people and if no one owned guns far fewer people would be killed by guns; and those who believe it's your right to be able to defend yourself.

The rebuttal from advocates of firearm ownership claim that owning a gun is intrinsic to the right to defend oneself.

Invariably they mean they need guns to defend themselves against other guns. Supporters of a gun free society, quite logically, think if all guns were illegal (except those owned by the military and police) then you wouldn't need to own a gun to defend yourself against another gun.

This is an extremely simplistic statement of the general argument, but it summarised the main ideas.

Currently there is an amnesty on illegal firearms, meaning that until the 31st of March people can hand in all illegal firearms, no questions asked.

To date about 11 000 guns have been handed over. Around 75% of these are legal guns, which is not the intended target of the amnesty. Though the overall aim of reducing the total number of guns in circulation is certainly being achieved in some small measure.

The Gun control legislation of 2000 has resulted in laws which make gun ownership and gun use a far less liable exercise - in other words, in order to be licensed for a gun, one now needs to be better trained in the usage of the weapon. This is reasonable.

There always are, and were, conspiracy theorists who think the government is doing this to make it harder for citizens to defend themselves against dictators, military coups and other political upheavals.

Paranoid and politically insecure

Now, I know that as South Africans, we have grown up paranoid and politically insecure, but the reality is that in as democratic and as politically sussed a society as SA, upheavals of this sort aren't very likely to happen.

Besides, if there was an armed invasion or a political uprising, it would be by some bunch of freaks who have been stockpiling weapons from the USA's Iraq war surplusses and your average pistol-toting suburbanite won't stand much of a chance anyway. The weapon of choice for your average terrorist is a petrol bomb.

I think that the people using this argument - the sane ones anyway - really are arguing for their right to use guns to defend themselves and their property against individuals.

This is a more reasonable argument, but one that can be challenged by the initial point I made - that if no-one owned guns, we wouldn't need them. These are also people who think it's okay to kill somone who is attempting to steal from you.

The same people who have guns because of the crime rate are, ironically, contributing to it.

The last official statistics released in 2002 say that from 1994 to 2001, a total of 184 328 firearms were reported lost or stolen.

Of the legally owner guns 13 506 were lost by their owners, while 170 822 were stolen from them. This translates to just under 200 000 guns in circulation which are subsequent to their loss, illegal and operated by untrained people.

I also think that it's ridiculous that at 16 years old one can own a gun, but has to be 18 and legally tested to have a license to drive a car. I'm in favour of making it harder to own a gun.

If you want to get rid of your gun, legal or illegal, here's what you can do:
More people are shot and killed in South Africa than die in car accidents and we're ranked second in the world in the gun violence stakes - SA's world No 2 in gun violence. More than half the homicides committed involve guns as the means of death, and cases of self-defence involving guns are four times more likely to result in the death of the person defending themselves. These statistics don't point to gun ownership as a means of protecting oneself.

I certainly agree with Gun Free South Africa that the only way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of guns in circulation.

  • Donna Stephen is editor of www.women24.comand the only dangerous weapon she uses is her computer keyboard.

    What do you think about stricter gun control in South Africa, and government's attempt to make it harder to own guns? Let Donna know or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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