2007-07-27 : Get rid of guns by removing the reason for them

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2007-07-27 : Get rid of guns by removing the reason for them

Postby GOSA » Mon, 2007-08-06 17:02

Get rid of guns by removing the reasons for possessing them
July 27, 2007 Edition 1

The editorial of July 26 and the report on the Gun Free South Africa Meeting (July 25) refer.

According to the statistics presented at that meeting:

A firearm "featured" in three out of 10 incidents of domestic violence.

There was a "12:13" split between legal and illegal firearms in those incidents.

Domestic violence was most problematic among gang members, police and security industry staff, and alcohol and substance abusers…

What does that tell us?

30% of domestic violence incidents involved a firearm, 70% did not.

15% of domestic violence incidents involved a legal firearm, 85% did not.

A proportion of those incidents in which a legal firearm "featured" involved "police and security industry staff".

That leaves perhaps 7% of domestic violence incidents involving ordinary civilians using legal firearms.

The other 23% involved "gang members" who have no problem in obtaining firearms, and "police and security staff" who have ready access to firearms. Disarming the civilian population will have no visible impact on those cases. Even in Japan, where private firearm ownership is almost impossible, gangs have no difficulty in arming themselves.

So disarming the civilian population will, at best, mean that 7% of domestic violence cases will require the attacker to turn to some other weapon, an axe, a kitchen knife or a convenient paperweight. Some of them may be put off by that inconvenience, many will not.

But disarming the civilian population will make many people more vulnerable. Some time ago I carried out a quick scan among friends, colleagues and acquaintances who had suffered violent crime. There were 15, of whom eight had a firearm to hand at the time, and seven either did not own a firearm or did not have it to hand.

Of the first eight, one was lightly wounded and none lost anything stolen. Two of the attackers were killed, one was wounded and arrested, and four were detained by their intended victim and handed over to the police to be arrested.

Of the other seven, two were killed, one was stabbed and badly beaten, one was badly beaten, and all lost cars or other possessions. Only one of the attackers was arrested.

There is also a wonderful microcosm of what a gun-free South Africa would look like in practice: one is apparently not allowed to carry a licensed firearm on the commuter trains. I have not noticed that making the trains particularly safe.

Finally, there will be many cases where a firearm has prevented a crime without that incident ever being reported to the police; an intending mugger deterred by a pistol or an intending burglar shooed off a property before breaking in. I know of a few such incidents, and they were not reported because there was, in effect, nothing to report.

The proposal that "the mere possession of a handgun would ensure a lengthy jail term" will not suffice.

First, murderers and robbers already face a long jail term if caught. The problem is that they do not expect to be caught. An additional hypothetical jail term will not deter them.

Secondly, the problem is not just criminals with firearms but also criminals armed with knives or clubs, and criminals working in groups to overpower and rob, rape or kill their victims. How are civilians supposed to protect themselves against them?

There is nothing quite as unpleasant as waking up to realise that there is someone in your home and that you have nothing with which to protect yourself. It is worse even than encountering a group of thugs and wondering whether you can outrun them. I have had both of those experiences and enjoyed neither.

Disarming the civilian population will only provide more and easier victims.

It will do nothing to reduce violent crime.

On the other hand, civilians will disarm themselves quite promptly once crime levels are reduced and they are confident of a quick response by the police when something does happen. Then a handgun becomes an irritation rather than a comfort.

We need to address the disease, not an outcome of the disease.

Helmoed Römer Heitman

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