Valentine’s Day 2017 always brings a memory of a not-so-great time in South African history: Oscar Pistorius and the death of Reeva Steenkamp. It is an emotionally charged memory, and reminds South Africa of the disgusting phenomenon that is domestic abuse and domestic violence. Rightfully so, some people and organisations in the NGO/NPO field take this as an extra opportunity outside of the usual Women’s Month in August to build awareness (something that should be a daily occurrence). Something that usually comes to the fore during these awareness campaigns, is the role of firearms in domestic abuse.
The fixation on these inanimate objects as inherently evil, perpetuating violence and misery is expected. Firearms are stigmatized, and there are people that believe if we get rid of all firearms, life will be considerably better. Unfortunately, not only is this fixation completely misplaced, it is completely irrational. A favourite line of the anti-gun argument, (apart from the “four times more likely to be killed with your own firearm” line, which has been discredited) is that 17% of partner/spouse murders are with a firearm.
It is easy to quickly fixate on this little statistic, and completely ignore the other 83% that were killed with sharp objects, blunt objects, suffocation and other unimaginable means. This brings another intent to the fore: to paint legal gun owners as inherently dangerous to society, and advocate for the removal of their guns. The first thing that must be considered, is that a gun is a tool. Just like the knife, screwdriver, brick, car, pillow, etc.; guns don’t kill people. People do. Bad people and sick people at that. Removing the gun from society will not reduce domestic violence; abusers aren’t magically abusive by virtue of the fact they own a gun. The second thing that must be considered, is that a legal gun owner who abuses their partner is NOT a legal gun owner. They are not fit to even have access to the kitchen cutlery drawer because you know…there are sharp objects in there. Or the kid’s sporting closet where the cricket bat and golf clubs are stored. There is a responsibility on the abused and anyone else aware of the abuse, to inform the police whose job it is to protect the abused and remove the abuser’s access to their firearm because they broke the law (if not multiple ones). There is unfortunately no law regarding access to everyday household items and violent intent, but don’t let this little fact scare you; guns are clearly the bigger issue outside the 83% we are already ignoring.
Of this 17%, we aren’t told how many deaths were by overstressed, overworked and under-supported police officers (not to knock them, but this is a significant issue by itself). We aren’t even told how many of these deaths were by an abused partner acting in self-defence. Using a 2008 statistic, about 30% of ‘murders’ were with a firearm. 18 500 were murdered in 2008. 30% of 18 500 is 5 550. Murder stats are not disaggregated, meaning we don’t know who died and how (criminals killed by police, criminals killed in self-defence, cop killings and actual murders are lumped together in one big statistic). Therefore, in 2008, less than 30% were actual murders that involved a firearm. We don’t even know how many of these firearms were legally licensed and illegal or used under legal or illegal circumstances.
Motor vehicle deaths tend to be 17-27% less than murders (which we know is a misleading term due to lack of disaggregation). Of the 15 000 road deaths in 2008, only 5 550 died from gunshot wounds. Cars killed three times as many people with guns in 2008. In 2015, even using a theoretical 40% for guns used in ‘murders’, cars still resulted in twice as many deaths! When we are told “guns are a leading cause of death”, does any notice the use of an indefinite article in the sentence? Does anyone know, that many rapes occur by brute force alone WITHOUT a weapon (knife or gun)? Does anyone know how many women have successfully defended themselves using their licensed firearm against attackers and rapists? Of course not; the stats are misleading. The narrative pre-defined as “guns are bad and we will do all in our power to hammer this home”. A female driver has a breakdown on the N2 next to Khayelitsha in the evening or early morning. She ought to have a gun in her handbag or on her belt. She ought to be trained enough to know how to use it and when. She (actually this applies to men as well) are not ‘as good as dead’ if said breakdown happens, but they are very close to it. Read the Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Bonteheuwel crime stats if you are uncertain. Even law enforcement avoids stopping on the N2 in daylight.
When the anti-gun argument says that guns stolen from civilians are used for criminal purposes, I can believe it. It’s another misleading stat, but I can believe that some are used accordingly. What you don’t know is that recovery of stolen/lost civilian firearms is very high. What I can’t believe is that mall robbers stole an AK-47 from a civilian before shooting dead a security guard at Waterstone Village shopping centre outside my home in 2014. What I can’t believe, is the claim that the Firearms Control Act has somehow ‘saved’ lives; the murder rate had been on a decline since 1994 that was still declining by the time the act became law in 2004. From 2013 through to 2015 it has been climbing. Despite the presence of the act, things are going wrong. Legal firearms owners haven’t been on a secret murder spree I can promise you. More legal firearms in the system don’t automatically result in more crime. The anti-gun argument believes that less firearms in society means less murder. By Gun Free South Africa stats on declining firearm ownership, this is incorrect.
Criminals like using guns, but taking away civilian guns only makes us more vulnerable; criminals seldom get their guns from civilians anyway. Domestic abusers will abuse anyway; the 17% is not going to magically vanish. Some people are perfectly happy with allowing criminals to walk all over us as long as nobody gets shot. Excuse me? Criminals don’t always practice very good trigger discipline or target identification, and I refuse to be coerced into living in tyranny and fear. That ‘no gun’ sign on your shop door means nothing to criminals. Notice how most US mass shootings happen in gun free zones? You’re better off investing in a neon-sign that says “Rob me please”; it at least states its message very clearly and someone is bound to listen to it, unlike the little red, black and white sign.
We need to re-look at gun ownership. Gun control in South Africa has been a failure because it has not achieved what the FCA said it would. Gun Free South Africa’s gun ‘amnesties’ and hand ins have made the situation worse: by giving guns in capable civilian hands to an uncappable police force (Colonel Prinsloo comes to mind); empirical evidence tells us that such actions have zero positive effects on gun related crime. Women and the vulnerable need to be empowered to protect themselves because help is not omnipresent, and when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.
If you own a licensed firearm, help is within arm’s reach when you need it. Hopefully you never will need it, but even eight bullets in a single stack magazine vs. my sixteen round double stack will make most attackers change their mind. If you own a firearm, you have a responsibility to practice with it so that you know what to do and how to do it when you need to. Going down to the range on a weekend or for sport shooting is great fun; too many people knock even this aspect of it despite never having tried it. It certainly beats golf bats and dimpled ping-pong balls in my opinion.