Firearm ownership – A loaded topic

Mad Sub, Gary Potgieter.

If you want to start an argument, discuss private firearm ownership.

Within minutes you will have two polar opposites – those decidedly for and those decidedly against.

Without question, firearm ownership, especially in South Africa, must be debated.

But herein lies the first problem. What do we debate? It is simply not clear enough to talk about either banning all guns, or having free firearm ownership.

Right now the anti-gun lobbyists are shouting out several cases involving legal weapons causing a tragedy.

On the other hand, pro-gun lobbyists dish out self-defence. But where can the two groups meet and find some common ground?

First off, I read a report which had some rather interesting information. Over 95 percent of mass shootings in the USA took place in so-called ‘gun-free zones’. So do gun-free zones work? Only for those who obey the law. And those inclined to obey the law are less likely to commit mass-murder.

The same logic would, therefore, apply to banning all guns. Those who obey the law would, well, obey the law. Those who don’t obey the law, well, I guess their weapons, be it a firearm or knife, would not be handed in.

So this leaves us in a bit of a pickle.

In a quest to find common ground between the two groups, I did some research.

A report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013 indicated that South Africa experienced 14 993 road deaths. The report also places South African roads as one of the most dangerous – 200 deaths for every 100 000 cars on the road.

It would appear, according to Stats SA for the 2013 midyear period, SA’s murder rate is 32.2 per 100 000 people. This does not differentiate between firearm-related or other means. It is the total number of murders.

According to an article on, SA has a gun-related death rate of 17 per 100 000 people. The USA is sitting on 3.2 per 100 000.

And this is where we begin to find some common ground. Nobody wants senseless deaths. Lobbyists from both groups detest murder, and murderers.

Now that we have a common footing between the two groups, what next? Well, some claim we must leave our protection to the police. They are, after all, trained to apprehend and deal with criminals. Most civilians are not.

But herein lies another problem. The average response time of the SAPS is between seven to 45 minutes. This was revealed in a recent Community Police Forum Meeting (CPF). That is a lot of time for the bad guy to do whatever he wants. Private security response times are, in general, better. About five to 10 minutes, which I discovered from talking to various residents. Still quite a long time, when seconds count.

In such a situation, having the means to drive the bad guy away would be rather useful. Whether you use a knife, or some form of martial arts, it would not matter. I guess you would have to hope your skills are good enough to remove a firearm from a bad guy.

After talking to a number of pro-gun people, I have found the following:

Most do not want to kill a person, even a criminal.

Most simply want to force the criminal to re-think his actions.

In response, many anti-gun lobbyists state that some firearm owners should not be in possession of a firearm. They claim some people cannot be trusted with a firearm. They would be correct. There are indeed some ‘cowboys’ out there.

But by the same token, there are some drivers out there who should not be behind the wheel. Yet, when a drunk driver kills a family of four, we do not blame the vehicle. We blame the driver. And correctly so.

So why not the same logic when dealing with firearms?

I have heard so many times that ‘guns kill’. Ladies and gentlemen, guns do not kill. People kill. Guns are mechanical devices. The bearer of the weapon dictates the action of the weapon, not the other way around. I have spent a lot of time with firearms, in a personal capacity and in the military. I have never yet seen a firearm jump up and start shooting on its own. I have, however, seen ‘cowboys’ handling weapons. And it was scary.

So where to now? We need to establish a proper course of action. We need to balance out the rights of the population.

We all have the right to be safe. We all have the right to feel safe. And currently, it is also a legal right to carry a legal firearm, legally. Remember that shooting is also a recognised Olympic sport.

Until crime, and more especially violent crime, is curbed, I cannot see any logic in removing licensed firearms from people.

And there is a reason for this. In most cases where a firearm was successful in self-defence, it is not reported. This is because the mere sight of the weapon convinced a bad guy to stop his activities. The case is then not reported.

We also hear of people killing (real) intruders. People out with the deliberate intention of hurting others and causing harm. These cases are the exception for responsible firearm owners. Most do not want to be placed in the situation of having to shoot someone.

The follow-up statement here, is if a firearm owner does not want to kill someone, why the firearm? Simple. You never hope to be in an accident, yet you still carry insurance. Some people see a firearm as ‘insurance’.

What I would recommend is mandatory training for firearm owners, beyond the competency test.

And yes, this additional training should be provided by the state. The SAPS has firearm instructors, as does the military. Use them. Provide the service. Should you not attend, then you must prove having attended additional training at your own cost. This would also allow the SAPS to (potentially) identify ‘cowboys’ and be proactive.

Through research, I have found that many anti-gun lobbyists make suggestions without really understanding firearms. In some cases people are genuinely afraid of firearms. Sometimes people are influenced owing to their lack of knowledge, or having experienced a personal tragedy as the result of a firearm.

I have also found that some ‘cowboys’ beat people over the head for the right to bear firearms (legally). In either case, this is not helpful. We will never be able to debate constructively until we listen and learn. From both sides.

We must also realise that the vast majority of firearm-related crime in SA is committed with illegal firearms. Usually taken from military or police stock. I am able to make this statement owing to the large numbers of crimes committed using one of the following rifles: AK-47, R1, R4 and R5. These are fully automatic weapons issued to the SAPS, military and private security. To my knowledge, though, private security companies do not have fully automatic weapons. So that leaves only the SAPS and the military. Or illegal purchases in another country. According to the Firearms Control Act, private civilians are not allowed to own a fully automatic weapon.

Forget the cry about rifles, assault rifles and the like. An ‘assault rifle’ is less powerful than a hunting rifle, or long-distance sports shooting weapon. Focus on how military-grade, fully automatic weapons are getting into the hands of criminals, because they do not come from private owners.

My final point is this. Learn the difference between bolt action, semi-automatic and fully-automatic, magazine capacity, clips and sights versus scopes. Learn the difference between a pistol and a revolver. A carbine and a rifle. If you do not know the difference, then you cannot constructively debate the notion of firearms.

And constructive debate is what we need.

Gary Potgieter

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