The Institute for Security Studies has thrown its name away by releasing a poorly researched and partisan opinion piece by Jody van der Heyde. The opinion, presenting itself as empirical proof of the author’s claim that guns drive domestic violence, has effectively tarnished the reputation of an organisation which holds itself out as evidence-based and that claims to influence debates and decisions in a constructive way.
On its web site, under ‘What gives ISS the edge?’ the ISS asserts that it builds trust with governments and civil society by being credible, independent and committed to the best interests of Africa, adding that authoritative and relevant research responds to African priorities and informs policy and practice.
A facile claim, at odds with the evidence in South Africa
Dovetailing with the extreme position of Gun Free South Africa that there should be no guns at all in private hands, Van der Heyde asserts that ‘fewer guns will save women’s lives in South Africa’, and proclaims that ‘tighter gun control would bolster the government’s commitment to fighting gender-based violence’.
The anti-gun establishment, in this case promoted by the ISS, assert that physical confrontations are made more lethal by a gun – this is only partly true. In any physical confrontation the winner is the physically superior participant. Thus, a person with an evil intention against another and the determination to make it happen will find a suitable weapon – as can be seen in these family tragedies in Dabekweni and Ayodhya.
In countries where public gun possession is severely curtailed or banned, criminals simply and logically turn to other methods of murder. Take as examples the experience of mass stabbings in Japan and knife-related crimes in the United Kingdom, where (in the UK) 43,516 knife crime offences were recorded in the 12 months ending March 2019 — an 80% increase from the low point in the year ending March 2014. Japan, coincidentally, is one of the countries recently lauded by Police Minister Bheki Cele as not permitting civilian gun ownership.
In France on Bastille Day 2016, 31-year-old Tunisian Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, denied access to a gun, simply rented a 19-ton refrigeration lorry and drove it into crowds of holidaymakers on the Nice beachfront, killing 86 people and injuring 458 others.
Basing her fallacious conclusion on SAPS statistics – cherry-picked for data that suit the narrative, the author fails to acknowledge rampant violent crime, the complete failure of the police to protect the public and the indisputable shambles at the Central Firearm Registry – the institution mandated to manage the administration of millions of lawfully owned firearms in South Africa. Factually speaking, tighter gun control has been in the government’s hands since 2004 and they have made a mess of it.
Perhaps the strongest indictment against van der Heyde’s suggestion is that it is factually at odds with the findings of a 166 page report commissioned by the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service. The report titled ‘Analysis of the effect of the Firearms Control Act on Crime 2000 – 2014’ (The Wits Report) was completed by a study group of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand.
Had van der Heyde expanded her research to include a relevant study that is credible and evidence based, she would have read – in the first summary – the conclusion that ‘The FCA [Firearms Control Act] is relevant to less than 5% of all crimes reported to SAPS. This percentage refers to violent crimes that could be related to firearms, but do not necessarily entail the use of firearms. For example, in crimes of murder, firearms are used in only about a third of cases. Thus violent crime should not be equated with firearms as they are often carried out with other weapons’.
The ‘Wits Report’ doesn’t suit the narrative of the anti-gun fraternity
Intriguingly, the report, shortly after its release to the Civilian Secretariat was embargoed for internal use. The internal restriction on distribution was somehow bypassed by Gun Free South Africa who have for years quoted self-serving excerpts from the report in the media and court documents.
Van der Heyde, as with others intrinsically opposed to private firearm ownership at all costs and to the notion of firearms in society in general, have ignored the full findings of the Wits report in favour of their own views. In contrast, responsible gun owners do not pursue an extreme position that everyone in South Africa should be armed.
But perhaps the gravest injustice of van der Heyde’s extreme position is that if her wish of ‘fewer guns’ were to come true, the mothers, daughters and sisters of South Africa – those effectively most vulnerable to rape and murder, would be left completely without protection.
Proper policing, effective administration of justice and a morally sound community, not the disarming of lawfully armed citizens, will reduce femicides.
Written by Jonathan Deal