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South African Police Badge
SAPS Badge on a holster

The ability to own a firearm in South Africa is unlike that of the United States. In America, the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to ‘keep and bear’ firearms. To change this law, a complex process requiring widespread public support from every sphere and region of American society must be initiated. To simplify: Congress must vote to repeal it with the support of a majority of states backing such a measure. In South Africa, the following must happen: a bill must be tabled to Parliament, passed with a 50%+1 majority, signed by the President, and then our ‘right to keep and bear arms’ is gone. We have no constitutional right to firearms, but a statutory right governed largely by the Firearms Control Act. But this is beside the point, because we have a natural right to protect ourselves.

The South African Police Service has not had a perfect record of saving innocent lives from malicious forces. The police themselves have been the victims of horrendous murdering sprees, placing South Africa on its knees, begging for its life at the barrel of a common criminal’s gun. Violent crime has plagued South Africa since government has cared enough to keep track of all such crimes across the country. We often top lists as the rape and murder capital of the world. Make no mistake; this is not due to poverty, as South Africa is certainly not even among the poorest countries in the world. This problem can be traced to an unfortunate resentment of success and an envy of wealth, which is not-so-subtly encouraged by the political class.

Being at the mercy of violent criminals who have lost their sense of humanity is the greatest violation of human dignity (as guaranteed by our Constitution) imaginable. While South Africa goes bonkers about an estate agent’s racist diatribe on social media, helpless people are dying in the dozens in townships, on isolated farms, and in their ostensibly secure suburban homes, on a daily basis. “The situation is likely to deteriorate,” notes Phumlani UMajozi of the Free Market Foundation, “as government enacts more and more gun-control laws. How sad.” Indeed, the ability to own a firearm to defend oneself is what separates a victim from a victor, a corpse from a productive citizen, and a forever-scarred victim of rape, from an empowered individual who did not wait for the paternal state to come and defend their dignity.

Besides the fact that South Africa is internationally infamous for its high level of violent street crime, Africa as a whole has a different but related imperative for gun ownership. Speaking with reference to Boko Haram terrorism in the north of Nigeria, African Students For Liberty Programs Associate Emeka Ezeugo writes, “Picture these insurgents driving into a village and they are greeted with equal or superior fire-power; surely [the terrorists] will think twice before they go attacking civilians.” Indeed, the Nigerian military has its work cut out for itself, having to defend nearly 200 million people against a roaming, unconventional group of sadists. It is no surprise that they have had trouble securing the civilian populace against attack.

Some might argue that Africa has too many firearms, and that the continent must be largely disarmed in the interest of peace. But this is emotional, unrealistic reasoning. It is unfortunate though, for even I would love to see an Africa where firearms are not needed for self-defense. However, we cannot allow largely-Western conceptions of war and public safety to govern the situation in Africa. Unfortunately many in South African civil society, also comfortably living with a Western mindset as they try to deal with the South African context, have embraced the notion of gun control. They argue largely on emotional grounds that guns have caused so many deaths in this country that it is high time government do something about it. Indeed, among their list of demands is that the government secures our borders as to not allow any weapons smuggling into the country, or that the government must ensure that weaponry is not stolen from the police.

Both of these ideas exist totally outside of the South African context. The South African government, be it an African National Congress government or a Democratic Alliance government, is not going to ‘secure our borders’ anytime soon. The National Party, with a 700,000-man strong force in the north of Namibia, guarding a perfectly straight line, could not perfectly sure the border with Angola. This was the most well trained and well equipped military on the continent, and one of the strongest in the world. Furthermore, with government corruption being a nearly-universal occurrence across the continent, nobody is going to ensure that no police firearms are stolen. The South African government is not even able to secure electricity cables which are routinely stolen from exactly the same location. To expect these things from our government is ignorant, for it requires a complete paradigm-shift.

The fact of the matter is that a firearm is a tool. It is a tool which has been used for the greatest evil and has been used for the greatest good, wielded by civilians, law enforcers and soldiers. The knife can be seen in the same light. The human hand, significantly, is the culprit in every single tragic event in human history. But it is also the most basic tool used in every instance of human progress. How the tool is used is up to us: conscious individual human beings. The human mind cannot be regulated, regardless of how desperately the social justice activists in our society would want it to be. A human mind committed to doing harm with a firearm, will get its hands on a firearm, despite any government controls. A human mind committed to the rule of law, however, will only suffer because it did not dare choose its own survival over the State’s political considerations. We mustn’t put them in that position. Leveling the playing field is the most rational and logical way to proceed.

  • Andreas

    Excellent writeup, I agree fully.

  • Kosie

    Well explained and it makes sense

  • JJ Engelbrecht

    What makes you so sure, that these untrained gun owners. Wont lose control themselves? What makes you so sure that they will not lose their guns and arm the better experienced and more willing to die attackers in the long term?
    Use your brain my friend. I like your idea, but you have to be a little more creative if you want to be a part of the solution. Not the problem. You will only incite more violence, we will become like America. Gross

    • Burger

      JJ Engelbrecht, America have 357 000 000 legal guns in civillian ownership.

      On the other hand South Africa have 4 000 000 legal guns in civillian ownership.

      According to statistics America have way less violent crime than South Africa, especially in the state Texas which have more fire arms per household than any other state in America.

      Now you explain to me how the hell do you use your brain, if you have one att all?

      • JJ Engelbrecht

        You might need one to end a statement like that my man. Sitting here vouching for an article that says their figures do not apply in SA then to sit and use it as ammo in a rebuttal pfftt. I wasn’t being rude, i was only asking for more creativity on something like gun violence. If people want to offer solutions, killing one another is hardly the way. So you, with your brain IF YOU HAVE ONE AT ALL recite statistics and tell me they apply to our country when all the other factors do not?? Get checked m8. You are definitely a keyboard warrior at best

  • Jonathan

    I would live to see an increase in lawful gun ownership in RSA. Make the licensing process quicker and easier, and let’s start hearing more stories of citizens stepping in to help others and/or protecting themselves. Just a couple days ago a would be hijacker got his head blown off by a private gun carrying member of the public.

  • Dean

    Mr JJ Engelbrecht you can say what you want but tell me you wouldn’t wish to have a firearm as a last line of defence while you wait for your armed response team or cops to arrive at your house while you are being surrounded by some animals inside your house. Just think how helpless you’re going to feel at that moment. What are you going to do? Watch as they rape your wife? Or just let them stick a blade through you or put a gun against your head? Just imagine that helpless feeling you will have feel it think about it. Remember you’re not Chuck Norris and the criminals don’t play fair it wont be one on one. Imagine that helpless feeling and tell me you not going to wish you had a firearm to give you a fighting chance. And gun control does not apply to criminals they will not go through the competency and licensing process. Don’t think with strict gun control which only applies to law abiding citizens the criminals will not be able to get their hands on guns.

    • JJ Engelbrecht

      Most definitely. It just is not a long term solution. That only protects you in that situation, that one time If even. I myself want a gun, for the sheer pleasure of squeezing it off in the range. I just feel that the author wanted to bring forward a solution, and stopped along the way. I only asked for some more creativity since it is such a double edged sword to go fighting fire with fire. More death I feel cannot be where we search for our solution. 🙂

  • Ariel

    SA will only become like America in your dreams. SA has far more cases of violent crime, rapes and murders per capita than the US…

  • David Turnbull

    Virtually every South African farmer is a gun owner- and I’ve never met a farmer that only owned hunting guns – so as a population guns are ubiquitous. Yet they are attacked at a higher rate than the unarmed population in the suburbs….. and they are killed at a higher rate also…. so if having guns was the solution why hasn’t it solved the problem for farmers??

    • 1) Farmers need better guns. My farmer relatives had to hand in a lot of their weapons, leaving them with only rifles.
      2) The Commandos need to be brought back, with farmers working in tandem with law enforcement to establish a roaming voluntary militia to protect farmers in areas where the police and private security cannot.

      • David Turnbull

        1. All farmers I know have hand guns and rifles…. I even know one with grenades.
        2. Why do you need a militia if you are armed – that completely contradicts the point of the article writen.
        The author of the article makes out as if owning a gun automatically means you are safe from violent crime or that criminals are less likely to target you. The case of farmers in SA proves that even when you are armed you may still be targeted and there is an argument that says the more you are armed the more violent criminals will be….

        • 1) The latter is 100% illegal for civilians to own. A civilian can get the former with sufficient licenses, but these can be hard to gain.
          2) So the army shouldn’t have an organisational structure? Armed individuals aren’t superhuman. They must band together to fight other armed individuals. Delegation, organisation, patrols, leadership, a command structure, communication – all these are needed to protect these isolated families.

          I think you are drastically misreading the article. The article isn’t at all stating that a gun is an automatic win. It is merely stating that a liberal gun policy can lead to more legal individuals being able to defend themselves. In no way does it say that having a gun will prevent crime. Banning guns sure won’t help that either. In a case of banning guns causing a criminals having better firepower (-1 to safety) to civilians being able to easily own guns (0), I’d rather go with the zero.

          • David Turnbull

            Owning a grenade is very illegal- but it probably wouldn’t work anyway.
            There is nothing stopping farmers from forming organized groups, in fact many already do. They have organized armed patrols – the police used to be involved in them also. There was a specialized unit. But this author basically states that this effort is futile from the government and that even at the South African army’s highest point of rediness it was not capable of controlling the border never mind in land security….. the point he is trying to make is that if all citizens could own guns then all citizens could defend themselves – not each other- themselves…. farmers are already capable of defending themselves and are already armed they even have organized structures to help defend each other – yet they are still attacked and are still killed at a higher rate than an unarmed person in the cities….. of guns were a solution to the problem of violent crime we would see it in farm murders and attacks – yet we don’t. In fact we see that criminals that attack farms are better armed, better manned and better organized than those in cities- it is essentially an arms race…. and a violence race – which criminals will always win! You will not solve the problem of violent crime without tackling the socio-economic issues that exist….. criminals don’t commit a crime thinking they will get caught or that they will die – they think everything will go to plan…. so having a death penalty does nothing and arming the population does nothing so long as there are millions and millions of poor people living next to such vast wealth and opulence.

          • Adrian

            I still believe that a criminal who knows his victim might be armed is likely to think twice about his plans whilst a criminal who is assured of his victim being unarmed will have absolute confidence in his ability to overcome whatever resistance the victim may put up. The fact is that untill someone can guarantee that criminals do not have access to firearms the only effective means of defence is for potential victims to also be armed in order to defend themselves. Now if everyone has firearms then I agreee that crime will not disappear but for sure the amount of violent crimes committed would come down.

          • David Turnbull

            That completely ignores the reason for criminals committing the crimes in question…in SA crime is a consequence of socio-economic factors like poverty and malnutrition- a desperate criminal does not care about the potential consequences of his crime only about the reward should he be successful – that is why capital punishment or life sentences aren’t a deterrent- so the fact that somebody is armed is not a deterrent it is simply an obstacle that can be over come – my gun can be bigger than your gun or I can have more guns than you…. you can not fight crime by arming people…. we saw this happen with the police in SA, the shoot to kill era has resulted in an arms race with criminals and they have become more violent as a consequence…. as I said above farmers are already quite well armed and they are victims of particularly violent crimes – it is simply a race to the bottom.

          • Adrian

            So what would your suggestion be about how law abiding citizens should defend their lives against heavily armed criminals? Should they just say “ok go ahead, kill me and my family”. Do you honestly believe that if law abiding people should hand in all their firearms the murders will end? I understand that socio-economic problems lead to crime, however does that mean that these criminals have a right to take what other people worked hard for? Does it mean that if a person who suffered hardship feels a need to take your property he should also have the right to murder you. Most of the murders committed you will find that there was no resistance from the victims yet they still got murdered. The reason why people keep firearms for self defence is self evident and since there is no viable alternative solution I believe your reasoning is flawed. However If you do have a viable alternative I am all ears. Bear in mind that not everyone can afford armed security guards and excessively expensive home security upgrades. Even if one could afford armed security guards that would still mean that firearms are present anyway.The day that anyone can guarantee that there is zero possibility of my having to ever face an armed attacker (armed with any deadly weapon including knives/bricks etc , that is the day I will willingly surrender my self defence firearm.

          • David Turnbull

            It is a false sense of security, my entire point is that you are no safer with a gun than without… case in point – farmers are heavily armed and are the most attacked population. I never said you should give up your guns, I merely stated that you are not specifically safer with them…. but if you “feel” safer then go right ahead. You can give every person a gun and it will not stop murders – you can take all guns away and it will not stop murders… neither is the solution. The only solution is social upliftment and irradiation of poverty – while that may be pie in the sky for you it is still the only known solution to violence and crime…. until that happens you can be armed to the teeth if you like and you’ll still not be safe.

          • Adrian

            I have had 3 hi-jacking attempts in one year. Case numbers and CCTV footage is available. In one incident you can clearly see the perpetrator already had a firearm pointed at me. I awaited my opportunity, pulled my firearm and they ran off in all 3 cases. Is that a false sense of security? I could have shot and killed the hi-jackers but since they ran off and posed no further threat to me I let them go. You know very well that social upliftment and eradication of poverty will never happen and even in the countries with the highest per capita income in the world there is still crime otherwise they would not need police forces. My question however remains unanswered, in the current context , what suggestion do you have for people to protect their property and lives if not with firearms? Firearms used in self defence situations is grossly unreported as the media is only interested in those instances where someone actually gets killed in the self defence situation. I spent 11 years attached to the Serious Violent Crime division of the SAPS in Gauteng and you would be surprised if statistics of firearms used effectively in self defence were made known. Even completely untrained people often manage to successfully use firearms for self defence. The criminals do not want to die and in many cases they would rather flee and go look for an easier target than a person who is armed and resists. So although possession of firearms for self defence may not be a guarantee that you will survive the encounter with criminals the question remains, Do people have the right to defend themselves? Do you believe that they should rather be unarmed and hope that the criminals will be mercifull and let them live or even forego torturing them for hours? You do not seems to have a viable alternative to people owning firearms for self defence thus your reasoning is flawed and or you live in cloud cookoo land. You have a long wait coming untill you see social upliftment and eradication of poverty and before that happens millions will die at the hand of criminals. So if you do not have a suggestion for self defence which will work better than firearms you should refrain from making comments on social media.

        • Mr. Turnbull, if you have knowledge of a farmer in possession of grenades, best you get into a police station quickly and report it. It is surprising that you appear to be unaware of your duty to report this.

    • Adrian

      The reason why farmers are targeted is that the attackers know that help is not readily available. The closest neighbours are not 20 or 30 metres away like in the urban areas. Attackers ambush people arriving home from church or lure them out of their houses and then with force of numbers overpower one family member and then have everyone else at their mercy. If your wife or child has a gun to their head then you are likely to become compliant with the attackers. Wherever the element of surprise is lost by the attackers the victims have been able to defend themselves effectively. Unfortunately the farmers are not doing much in the line of defensive training and their properties are seldom as protected against attack as was common 30 years ago. Having firearms does not guarantee a successfull defence however there is a chance of being able to defend yourself and your family. Not having access to firearms does guarantee that you will be a defenceless victim. Which would you rather be?

  • C2H5OH

    You may not believe in gun ownership.
    You may not believe in God.
    But the first thing you’ll do when your home is being invaded is:
    Call people with guns to come save you;
    Then pray they get there in time.