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.