Proposed firearm law is anti-poor, anti-women

Researcher Romi Sigsworth, writing for the Institute of Security Studies, argues that guns are lethal to women when owned by abusive men. This does not at all negate the self-defense needs of women who feel they need guns and non-abusive men who feel the same. The Firearms Control Act and Domestic Violence Act already make provision for the removal of a firearm from someone suspected of domestic violence. The courts can make a similar declaration if the firearm owner is sentenced without the possibility of a fine for a violent offence or sexual offence.

The tools to address the scourge of gender-based violence already exist, as it emanates from firearm owners. The criminal justice system is generally incapable of dealing with violent crime. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), for example, only secured convictions for 2.3% of the hijackings reported in the 2018/19 financial year, based on analysis done by
Rapport and published by City Press. The NPA secured convictions for only 9% of sexual offences reported to the police during the period, and we know how critical time is for these kinds of offences.

Looking at the Stats SA
Victims Of Crime Survey from 2019, weapons were used in 35% of the home robberies reported by households . Of these 35% of incidents, guns were used 47.1% of the time, far higher than any single weapon, and the rest of the weapons items such as knives, clubs, and pangas, all of which rely on the strength of the wielder. That means if you face a home robbery, 16.1% of the time you can expect the assailant to be carrying a gun.

As a result, unless the police are confident in their ability to shut down the illegal sources of firearms, the black market for firearms, households and in particular female-headed households will become even more vulnerable. And even if the police somehow manage to shut down the black market (when in fact they will likely enlarge it through restricting firearm ownership, putting legal firearm owners in the impossible position of choosing between following the law and protecting themselves and their families), the police itself is a source of firearms for criminals.

When it comes to police reaction times to crimes in progress ("alpha" complaints as per the police's classification system) on the 10111 national hotline, the situation is even more dire. According to the 2019/20 South African Police Service (SAPS) annual performance report, the national average reaction time to these complaints was 17 minutes and 24 seconds, including serious crimes. SAPS performed the worst of all in Kwa-Zulu Natal, at an average reaction time of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to ongoing crime.

Even the best performing province, Gauteng, could only muster an average reaction time of 13 minutes and 1 second. Keep in mind that there was a 52.85% decline in the number of calls received at the twenty-two 10111 command centres – a lot of that is due to the decline in hoax calls or non-SAPS related calls. Nonetheless, it still indicates that the centres were operating under a lesser burden compared to the previous year.

Does anyone think that a police response time of 17 minutes, 24 seconds is adequate? This alone validates one of the maxims often shared among South Africa's gun community: You are your own first responder. According to a study previously conducted by Professor Zinn at UNISA, home robberies can take between 30 minutes to an hour – the average police reaction time leaves a constrained window of time for a house occupant to identify that an attack is taking place, and call for help.

All of the above, along with the admission by the SAPS commissioner that the institution cannot deliver on its mandate, make the proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act highly irrational and irresponsible. Not only will self-defense not be a valid reason to own a firearm – owning a firearm for occasional hunting and sports shooting will now be conditional on either owning a property where occasional hunting/sports shooting takes place, or having written permission from the owner of such a property. This is an anti-poor provision, as it favours large property owners and their friends over poor people who do not own property (one wonders if the Communist Party members in Cabinet approved any of this), when it comes to the ability to acquire a firearm license.

This is not to mention the reduction of allowed cartridges that a firearm owner may possess, down from the current 200 to 100. Remember, South Africans are already barred from owning fully automatic weapons, while criminals have no such restrictions in the black market. Therefore, South Africans will be even more outgunned if the amount of ammunition they can legally possess is cut in half.

Cabinet has approved a horrendous bill, something that will lead to more South Africans dying, more women being raped, more house robberies, and more hijackings among others. If the government cannot meaningfully stop the illegal supply of firearms, including from their own ranks, what makes them think this supply will be reduced by reducing legal firearm ownership?

By the same logic, we should disarm SAPS and the South African National Defence Force, too. Not to mention that the police often respond to crimes after the incident has taken place, meaning that the practical consequence of these proposals will be competent legal gun owners being less safe than they otherwise would have been. Any deaths resulting from disarming law-abiding citizens will be on the government's hands

This article was first published on City Press on 14 June 2021.

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