Crime and punishment in our country
Rich Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm (www.mediaandwritersfirm.com),
a content development and reputation management agency
THERE are certain subjects – the death penalty, abortion and gun control – that rattle people’s cages. If you speak out on them, you will hear from people who don’t agree with you.
Predictably, the killing of Bafana Bafana captain and Orlando Pirates keeper, Senzo Meyiwa, has re-energised the debate on gun control.
Indeed, pro- and anti-gun controllers have immersed themselves in emotion and self-righteousness.
After all, while other weapons – knives, meat cleavers, whatever – may be at the disposal of anyone intent on taking another person’s life, guns certainly make it so much easier and quicker.
If events of the past few weeks didn’t impel lawmakers, including our Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and South African Football Association president, Danny Jordaan, to take serious steps on the gun control front, perhaps nothing would have.
As horrifying and sad as what happened to Meyiwa is, it’s the tip of the iceberg in gun violence. According to figures released by the police, more than 16 000 people were murdered last year. Gun Free SA claims 42 percent of those murders involved guns. Guns are also used in suicides, homicides and unintentional shootings.
We all agree that one of the things that separates this country from others is its easy access to firearms. It’s that factor that renders possible sickening incidents like Meyiwa’s killing so it’s time thoughtful people acknowledge that this nation’s standing as one of the world’s most violent has to be addressed. The tightening of gun laws is long overdue.
As Meyiwa’s death fades, gun rights advocates will continue arguing that the problem isn’t the weapons but the few people misusing them.
But we should be aiming to prevent our citizens from becoming involved with violent crime at all.
Let’s look at the arguments by both sides.
Supporters of tighter gun control measures argue the more guns you find out there, the greater chance they’ll be used in some awful manner.
On its website, Gun Free SA reports: “Gun-related killings are not indiscriminate acts of chance that randomly affect people. There is a simple cause and effect – the presence of a gun puts everyone at risk – whether it is used for self-injury such as in suicide, unintentionally in an accident, or in cases of family violence.
“For many South Africans, having a gun in the home is about protecting themselves against the stranger intruder, but data in South Africa and elsewhere shows that you are four times more likely to have a gun used against you than to be able to use it successfully in self-defence.”
In this firefight, gun owners are armed with reason and the constitutional right to own property. They seek to protect something tangible: the right to bear arms, and with it, the ability to defend themselves, if necessary, through their own efforts.
Supporters of gun ownership say guns make them safer. They say as gun ownership rises, violent crime drops.
They say when a citizen is armed, they are less likely to be attacked. And when they are attacked, guns tilt the odds in their favour.
Therefore, they say if politicians want to impress the populace, to show how concerned they are about the illegal use of guns, let them put some teeth into the punishment and not punish the innocent lawabiding citizen who complies with the gun laws currently in place.
The anti-gun lobby says too many guns are killing too many people.
No other industrialised society tolerates such a situation, even those who value liberty as much as we do.
The anti-gun crowd says they are more than willing to give up their right to bear arms, especially if they can deny that right to everyone else.
Gun-control utopians just want the nasty things to go away.
Once law-abiding citizens have surrendered their guns, these wishful thinkers sincerely hope criminals will be disarmed as well. Hoping tends to be a major element of their public-policy agenda.
They crave new laws and regulations as espoused by our police minister and his policy writers to reduce risk and make us all safer. For them, the promise of safety trumps freedom.
If guns were outlawed tomorrow, of course, thugs would still have their guns. But over time, 20 years maybe, they’d gradually be confiscated, ultimately leading to a gun-free society, where our children and their children will live in safe communities.
The alternative to suffering through such a supply dry-up period is to suffer increasingly and perpetually from gun proliferation without let-up. Which is the greater evil? The South African Gun Owners Association says: “We must stop blaming instruments of crime.
“Despite the carnage on our roads, no one calls for the banning of vehicles; despite the many drownings, no one calls for the banning of swimming pools; and so I could carry on.
“Criminals will always obtain guns or whatever else to commit their atrocities with, while the disarming of the law-abiding will merely cause them to become easier targets.”
But tackling gun crime is a complex, multi-faceted problem that needs addressing in a number of ways, including the old chestnuts of parenting, education and employment.
The major questions are: How do stricter gun laws address the social and cultural conditions at the heart of the myriad problems that contribute to violence?
Is stricter gun control going to force parents to take responsibility for their children? Is stricter gun control going to enlighten those prone to violence to the value of human life?
Will we all start expecting more from human beings or continue to lower our standards? Will stricter gun laws force people to take responsibility for their destinies or will we continue with this “got a problem; make a law” type of government?
Gun violence is a symptom of underlying social injustices, poverty, powerlessness and despair. We must address the inequality in our society.
Ultimately, a civilised society must have strict gun laws and guidelines for gun usage if it is to have a modicum of domestic tranquillity of the kind enjoyed in relatively crime-free democracies.
Given our history of anti-apartheid struggle, lawlessness, proliferation of guns, poverty and helplessness this will not come easily. It can’t be done radically. It will probably take one, maybe two generations.
Passing laws is a symbolic – purely symbolic – move in that direction. Any real justification should be to reduce crime and desensitise the public to the regulation of weapons.
Would more and stricter gun control laws have an impact? Absolutely – on people who obey laws. But they aren’t the people who shoot people at random during car hijackings and other robberies or invade phone stores in our malls let alone embark on cash heists.
Those people will get firearms no matter how stiff the laws are. They’ll steal them, buy them on the street. Violent criminals will always have weapons.
As long as both the law-abiding population and the criminal classes doubt that serious crime leads to serious punishment, attempts at serious gun control will prove futile.
BESIEGED: The writer says stricter gun laws will be meaningless until there’s a greater likelihood of offenders being punished.