SA should learn from the mistakes of the US and curb the existing black market for guns…
WHEN I HEARD ABOUT the Virginia Tech shootings last week, I was suddenly less than enthusiastic about my pending visit to Columbia University next month. I mean, how can I not be a little bit alarmed when school shootings of that nature become regular occurrences in the United States? Everyone remembers the Columbine High school shootings on 20 April 1999, when two students killed 12 fellow students and a teacher.
But that was just another of many shootings that occur in schools on a regular basis in the US. For example, since 1996 there have been 38 separate school shootings in the US at a rate of about three a year.
However, the Virginia Tech was without question the worst ever. It resulted in the death of 33 people, including the gunman, who also injured 15 other students.
The scary part is that everyone in the US keeps asking: “How could it have happened?” Well, one of their citizens had a well-articulated answer eight years ago. World- famous independent singer/ songwriter Ani Difranco described the situation in the US and the gun-crisis taking place there impeccably in her 1999 title track called To the Teeth. She wrote: The sun setting on the century And we are armed to the teeth. We’re all working together now To make out lives mercifully brief. And school kids keep trying to teach us, What guns are all about – Confuse liberty with weaponry and watch our kids act it out. And every year now like Christmas, Some boy gets the milk-fed suburban blues. Reaches for the available arsenal And saunters off to make the news. Undeniably, there’s a serious issue with gun control in the US and a few intelligent souls there can see it. But the problem is that gun lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) are too powerful. Gun manufacturers work hard to perpetuate the myth that the proliferation of guns is in no way connected with gun violence in the US. Through various forms of propaganda they’ve somehow managed to convince the majority of the American public that easy access to firearms is a sign of their freedom and a treasured right, not a source of suffering or senseless killing.
In addition, the NRA has fought hard to sever the connection between incidents such as that at Virginia Tech and the proliferation of guns in the US, where more than 2m people own guns.
But it isn’t as if South Africa doesn’t have problems of its own with regard to firearms. Arms proliferation is rife here too. I suppose that’s why the Virginia Tech shootings struck a chord, because South Africans are beginning to wonder if the day will come when some mentally imbalanced HIV positive student goes “postal” with an automatic weapon on the campus at Wits. But so far the only people using weapons to kill people in SA appear to be criminals and not students… for now.
Nevertheless, the issue of gun control is something that requires further inspection. Although SA has long been regarded as a leader in the crackdown on small arms proliferation – and we have strong laws and policies in place – we continue to fall short of our goals. Despite the fact that SA law demands some of the world’s most stringent requirements before anyone can buy a firearm legally – in total contrast to the US, where all you seem to need is a driver’s licence to buy a gun at your local supermarket – the black market for arms in SA is still buoyant.
The recent revelation about Armscor’s illegal sale of millions of rounds of 7.62mm and 5.56mm ammunition (used in AK47 and R-5 rifles) to Industrie Spreewerk Lubben in Germany has seen the US market flooded with military and police sur- plus ammunition from SA. That’s in direct conflict with the SA Government’s arms policy, which only allows government-togovernment sales and not sales to private companies.
To add insult to injury, the forensic report that uncovered the ammunition sales – made in November 2005 by First Consulting – revealed various breaches in procedure and even a national security breach in the sale of infantry assault vehicles.
What’s truly disturbing is that this information is only now being revealed to the public – two years after the report – and that the three officials suspended during the investigation have since been reinstated.
The long and short of it is that as much as we like to point fingers at the US for its lack of gun control, we as South Africans are indirectly contributing to incidents like the Virginia Tech shootings if we allow what happened at Armscor to continue unabated.
Governments must make a determined effort to curb the flow of arms into the black market, not just overseas but within its own borders. Anyone living in a township in SA will tell you how easy it is to buy a gun at minimal cost.
There’s no sense kidding ourselves about this issue because guns are designed with just one function in mind: to kill… quickly and efficiently.