Menu Close

Tougher gun controls will stem violent crime

Share This Article:

Picture: Werner Beukes / SAPA / Tuesday, 20 June 2006 – Control Arms campaigner, Judy Bassingthwaighte director at Gun Free South Africa lights candles for the survivors and victims of armed violence. The latest quarterly national crime statistics show that violent crime is nearing levels last seen in the 1990s, when violence peaked. On average, 75 people were murdered on every one of the 92 days between July 1 and September 30 this year, the writer says.

By Claire Taylor

As we begin the 16 Days of Activism campaign for No Violence against Women and Children, the national crime statistics contain key information to help stop South Africa’s violence bloodbath.

The latest quarterly national crime statistics show that violent crime is nearing levels last seen in the 1990s, when violence peaked. On average, 75 people were murdered on every one of the 92 days between July 1 and September 30 this year.

In addition to highlighting the extent of South Africa’s violence bloodbath, the statistics hold key information to help reduce crime. They show that gender matters, that motive matters and that the weapon used matters.

Gender

Crime and violence in South Africa are gendered, which means men and women experience these very differently. Men are overwhelmingly the victims of most crime – 61 murder victims a day are men. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and while women are far less likely to be murdered, they are most at risk of being killed in the home by their intimate partner.

Irrespective of the victim’s gender, the perpetrator is almost always a man.

This raises questions about masculinity and violence and the effectiveness of campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism campaign. While these can help focus attention on violence against women – albeit for a limited time – they risk perpetuating the stereotype that men are violent perpetrators and women are helpless victims. By not recognising the extraordinary vulnerability of men being victims of crime and violence, this stereotype increases the risk that men will become perpetrators, as research shows a close association between men who are victimised and becoming offenders.

Motive

South Africa’s national crime statistics show that most murders result from arguments and misunderstandings, not crime. In other words, most murders involve men killing men during an interpersonal dispute. This means that deploying more police officers to deal with South Africa’s escalating crime is unlikely to have much of an effect.

Instead, longer-term interventions to build resilience and reduce risk at an individual, family and community level are needed to address high levels of interpersonal violence.

Weapon

Guns are the leading weapon used in murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery, and while there was a slight decline in South Africa’s overall murder rate this quarter, the number of people shot dead increased to 34 a day between July and September this year, up from 31 a day last year.

Guns are designed to kill, and the more guns there are, the more people are shot and killed, injured or threatened with a firearm.

Limiting gun availability saves lives, as South Africa has already shown: the country’s gun death rate halved from 34 people shot dead a day in 1998 to 18 a day in 2009 when gun availability was reduced due to various controls associated with the Firearms Control Act (2000).

However, as gun numbers steadily increased from 2010/11 because of breakdowns in the controls associated with under-resourcing, poor planning and criminality involving fraud, corruption and theft, gun violence has steadily risen.

Globally, research confirms that limiting the availability of guns saves lives. One of the most compelling studies is from Colombia in South America, which banned the carrying of guns in public in two major cities. A study comparing Bogotá and Medellín with seven control cities which continued to allow the public to carry guns calculated that 30 lives were saved every month due to the gun ban and that a further 45 lives could have been saved each month if the ban had included the control cities.

Solution

Now is not the time for complacent claims that “this is the nation we are” in South Africa as the National Police Minister did in response to the latest crime statistics.

Reducing violent crime in South Africa is not straightforward.

However, one of the most immediately effective interventions is to reduce the availability of guns.

While the SAPS cannot effectively police interpersonal disputes, it has a key role to play in recovering and destroying illegal firearms. Outside of any controls, these are most often used in crimes, being used repeatedly to kill, injure and threaten. In this regard, the decrease in the number of firearms recovered because of police action in the last quarter is extremely concerning. Recovery efforts will only be effective if we close the taps leaking illegal guns into our communities.

The biggest tap is legal guns held by the state and civilians, which requires that controls over legal guns and ammunition are strengthened.

Two interventions are urgently needed to stop legal guns from leaking into criminal hands. The first is to amend the Firearms Control Act (2000) to address loopholes and align South Africa’s gun law with global obligations and norms.

Second, is ensuring that the Central Firearms Registry is fully functional and can track every single gun from cradle to grave.

Now is the time for urgent and proactive action from the government to save lives and help make South Africa a safer, more secure country.

Claire Taylor is a Researcher at Gun Free South Africa