South Africa

GROUNDUP: OP-ED

There is no right to carry a gun under our Constitution in South Africa

The Bishop Lavis community on the Cape Flats protest in 2018 demanding better policing and an end to gang violence. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Yet much debate on the Firearms Control Amendment Bill is based on the ‘right’ to have a gun for self-defence.

First published by GroundUp.

Adèle Kirsten is the director of Gun Free South Africa.

Much of the debate on the Draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill has focused on the so-called “right” to have a gun for self-defence. There is no right to carry a gun for self-defence under our Constitution.

Most people in South Africa do not own guns. Those that argue for the right to carry a gun for self-defence are arguing for the right to kill. Because guns kill — that’s their purpose. Our Constitution protects our right to life and to safety and a gun takes that away. It undermines that right.

The best form of self-defence is to de-escalate the confrontation, remain calm, and co-operate. Not only is this common sense, but it is also backed up by local and international research. The events described by two speakers at a panel on the Bill (Ground Up, 1 July) further demonstrate that. Neither of them was armed at the time, yet their attackers were, and they both survived, which is the most important outcome. Not having a gun is what helped them survive. It also meant two fewer guns entering the illegal market to be used in crime.

Using a gun for self-defence increases the risk of being shot. South African research undertaken in two Johannesburg police precincts shows you are four times more likely to be shot at if you use your gun in self-defence, whereas international research shows that guns are very rarely used in self-defence against a criminal attack. This is not surprising: criminals are usually armed, work in groups of four to five, and have the element of surprise to add to their advantage.

A gun in the home also increases the risk for injury and death: it is more likely to be used to commit murder, suicide or to threaten and intimidate someone known to the shooter than to successfully protect against an intruder. For example, in South Africa, women are most at risk of being killed at home by an intimate partner with a legal gun.

Having a gun also puts you at risk for criminal attack: guns are highly prized commodities and criminals target people for their guns. Over the last 20 years, police reports consistently show that most guns reported as lost or stolen were lost by or stolen from civilians. Of the 8,680 guns reported stolen or lost in 2019/20 (an average of 24 a day), 8,007 (92% or 22 a day) were owned by civilians and 673 were police owned.

So, accepting that guns are not the solution opens the space to genuinely explore alternatives together, to see what we can do to build safer communities. DM

Adèle Kirsten is the director of Gun Free South Africa.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp or Daily Maverick.

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  • You are mad, Adele. You obviously live in a dream world or a very rare, secure environment, unlike the rest of us. Let us keep our guns while you explore alternatives. Where’s the statistics for the amount of robberies, rapes and murders that have been thwarted by armed citizens? Where’s the statistics of the violence, rape and torture perpetrated by these thugs against innocent, unarmed civilians during these invasions? You make it sound like a stress-free experience. You cite the experiences of two gun-free advocates. If not all of us, then most of us have experienced a violent home invasion and I think those who complied with the invaders and were still violently harmed with their pets killed will disagree with you and your statistics. Please speak for yourself, not the rest of us.

  • You must inhabit some kind of parallel universe & blissfully ignore the brutal realities that law abiding citizens in SA face on a daily basis.

    My 2 teenage Goddaughters who live with their parents on a farm in N KZN recently survived a kidnapping attempt during a farm invasion, only because their father was able to defend his family with his firearm.

    Possibly you can maybe appreciate that there’s nothing to be calm about & no room for negotiation, when a gang of 6 high goons wants to take your 2 teenage daughters with them after robbing your home.

    Before you try & impose your “philosophy” on the rest of SA, I would like you to pause & think of the horrific & tragic consequences of how that scenario could have played out, had their father not been able to defend his family. And it’s not an isolated incident.
    Enough said.

  • “Those that argue for the right to carry a gun for self-defence are arguing for the right to kill”

    What twaddle. I carry a gun for self-defence, and have never though that I have, nor would I want a “right to kill” An undrawn gun is a deterrent or form of defence on its own.

    Then the oft repeated claim that “you are four times more likely” to be shot if you use your own gun, is simply not a credible statement to make.

  • What is wrong with committing suicide? It is a crime against who? This is like an unprepared speech she would take to a debate. Guns in private hands often save innocent lives. If they take the lives of criminals then that leaves fewer of them to one day arrive at Adele Kirsten’s house.

  • Thank you for an excellent article Adele. I have never owned a gun. I have twice been the victim of criminal violence. Once in the JHB city centre on a crowded street, where I was threatened with a knife by 4 youths, and once in my sons home in JHB where the criminals did not show any conventional weapons but I cannot say whether they had any weapon other that a pickaxe that was wielded to break in and intimidate. If I had been carrying a gun on either occasion I could not have used the gun. In both instances I was taken entirely by surprise. On the first occasion if I had used a gun innocent pedestrians would have been in the line of fire. In the second my sons family would have been more at risk than the 3 criminals. If I had had a gun on my person it is extremely likely that it would have been taken from me before I could use it. I share the view that owning a gun increases the the risk of criminal attention and personal injury. It is interesting that while gun ownership is not the norm, even in our violent society, the vituperative and violent responses to this article have so far come only from advocates of gun ownership – is this indicative of something? There is a lack of cool heads and reasoned argument in the gun lobby. Are these people, and the likes of them, really emotionally qualified to be gun owners or are they a danger to society, their families and themselves?

    • No, Donald, licensed firearms owners are the most responsible part of society, as clearly pronounced by the then Minister of Safety and Security, Sydney Mufamadi. But even responsible people find repeated lies like Adele’s a very bitter pill to swallow.

      Regarding your own experiences, you have probably made a wise choice not to own a firearm. But with training, like law-abiding firearm owners undergo, you might acquire a different skill set that could put you in a better position to protect yourself, or your son’s family, should a violent criminal one day decide to boil your granddaughter, or rape her, or something equally vile.

      We live is a violent, deranged society at present, and sometimes are left with no choice but to fight, to protect those we care about. Each of us is our own first responder in our time of need. Let’s keep the best tool available for people like me, people who are willing to take on the onerous responsibility of firearm ownership, to become proficient in using firearms and people who are prepared to responsibly protect themselves and those around them.

  • I think that legal firearm owners are aware that they don’t have a constitutional right to carry a firearm. The current legislation is very rigorous (although inefficient applied) and I wonder if changes will reduce violent crime.

  • Adele,

    SAPS has lost control over firearms in South Africa, I think that we both agree on that. That also means that SAPS have almost no reliable statistics to show where stolen firearms originate. We do know, for example, that SAPS Col Chris Prinsloo supplied many thousands of guns to the Western Cape gangs. These were SAPS guns, not civilian-owned firearms – because they were handed in to SAPS under amnesties. SAPS do not accurately report the state of affairs related to any State-controlled guns; no one really knows what’s missing.

    The research you mention in two Johannesburg precincts has been debunked so many times, it is surprising that you still cling to it. It’s simply nonsense – and you know it.

    My family has enjoyed firearms in the home for nearly 30 years. During that time no one in the family has been injured by these, no one intimidated by these, but we have all been safer because a) we trained and became proficient with our firearms, b) we taught our children from a very early age to respect firearms and c) we taught them firearm safety. Now parents & kids are all able to help ensure safer communities wherever we may be, should we come across a firearm, or whenever we may need to lawfully use one.

    Bad-guys also have a vote in the outcome, so firearms don’t always guarantee safety, but they do help even the odds in dire situations when there is no other option but to fight back.

    I respect your choice to not own a firearm; why won’t you respect my choice?

  • Adele, one more thing.

    You start with this nonsense. “Those that argue for the right to carry a gun for self-defence are arguing for the right to kill. Because guns kill — that’s their purpose.”

    I argue for my right to life, and to protect that right I argue to carry a licensed firearm. I don’t want to kill, but my desire to live is simply greater.

    Guns don’t kill, people kill. I have owned many firearms for decades. None of my firearms have killed anyone – not one, not ever – and I hope that my vigilance and preparedness keeps it that way.

    Firearms have one primary purpose, and that is to fire a bullet accurately once the trigger is deliberately pressed, to hit the intended target. In the violent South Africa we live in, those targets are still mostly paper, steel or clay.

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