Disarming the citizenry is not the answer.
Kopel, Dr. Paul Gallant & Dr. Joanne Eisen of the Independence
Reprinted from National Review Online
On September 28, former South
African President Nelson Mandela pleaded
for help in fighting AIDS in his country. He made the plea during a guest
appearance at the Labour Party conference in Great Britain, where he was
conferred with honorary membership. Mandela declared the spread of AIDS as
"a crisis of a dimension which I cannot support in words."
An August 31 editorial
in South Africa's Daily Dispatch put it more bluntly: South Africa
and its government "will stand or fall on its ability to successfully
address two of our biggest problems: HIV/Aids and poverty. But it is exactly
these two areas on which the government has no clear policy."
When the Mandela government
came into power it promised the people more jobs, but its socialist policies
came up empty-handed. Promises of better housing befell the same fate. Better
health care delivery? That failed, too.
Instead, with one of the
mortality rates from AIDS, South Africa and its people have reaped a bitter
More, the Daily Dispatch
editorial left out the third most pressing problem now facing South Africans:
violent crime. It's just one more thing that the government would rather not
have to deal with.
Crime has gotten so bad there,
that according to an August 12 report
from the Independent Online News, South Africans now face a blackout on
crime statistics for a year or more.
The blackout has reportedly
"angered crime analysts, researchers and opposition politicians who say the
moratorium comes at a time when the number of reported crimes is 'at an all-time
high'." The Clinton administration, incidentally, has violated its
agreement with Syracuse University, and is withholding
data about federal gun crime prosecutions from the University's TRAC
Today, South Africa suffers one
of the highest murder rates in the world, with 20,000 killings a year in a
country whose population is 42 million. (The U.S., with about six times
more population, has about half that number of killings.) Not helping matters is
the fact that approximately 25% of the country's estimated police force of
120,000 is considered functionally illiterate.
The connection between violent
crime and AIDS in South Africa was underscored by "rape
insurance" policies launched in November 1999. The "Rape
Care" package offered by LifeSense, a medical benefits organization, is
underwritten by Lloyds of London, and "provides a top-up policy should the
rape survivor become HIV-positive as a result of rape." Dr. Angus
Rowe, a spokesperson from LifeSense, stated that "in an environment where
rape is so pervasive we need to extend protections to rape survivors in the
Rape Care policy holders will
have access to counseling and medical treatment, "an anti-retroviral
starter pack, the home delivery of the full 28-day anti-retroviral treatment,
and HIV testing for one year."
Today, rape in South Africa has
been described by women's groups as occurring at a "shockingly high
rate," and many cases are now routinely recorded simply as
So other than to hide the facts
from its citizens and the rest of the world, how has the South African
government chosen to deal with the problem of skyrocketing violent crime?
Mandela's successor, President Thabo Mbeki, has decided to play the age-old
smoke-and-mirrors game — false promises of lower crime through harsher
gun laws — thereby diverting attention away from the real social and
And why not? The ploy has
worked well in the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia.
Mbeki's Firearms Control Bill
would drastically overhaul the country's firearm laws and outlaw
90% of all lawfully owned firearms currently in civilian hands. The new
regulations would let police decide who can own a gun, and who cannot. This is
also Sarah Brady's stated long-term goal: "needs-based" licensing,
with the police deciding who really "needs" a gun. (Erik Eckhom,
"A Little Gun Control, a Lot of Guns," New York Times, Aug. 15,
1993, p. B1.)
Under the proposed changes,
South African police would be given
expanded powers of search and seizure.
As originally proposed, the
bill required people accused of firearms possession crimes to prove their
innocence, although this provision has been subsequently modified.
In addition to limiting firearm
possession to a total of 5 firearms (including only one handgun and one
shotgun), limiting magazine capacity, and limiting possession of ammunition to
200 rounds at any one time, the new restrictions would require applicants to
prove the need for a gun for self-defense. Under pressure from the South
African Gunowners Assocation, the government raised
the maximum number of self-defense guns to two: one shotgun and one handgun.
The new South African policy is
actually less extreme than Mrs. Brady's stance that nobody should be allowed to
have defensive guns: "To me, the only reason for guns in civilian hands is
for sporting purposes." (Tom Jackson, "Keeping the Battle Alive,"
Tampa Tribune, Oct. 21, 1993)
The South African demand of
proof of "need" for a defense gun comes despite protests from the New
National Party, whose spokesperson, Piet Matthee, declared
that "being a resident in South Africa is just the reason why any
law-abiding citizen would require a gun."
Asked Matthee, "How can
you prove that you need a firearm until you have been hijacked or your wife has
been raped in front of you in your own house. Does anybody who has never been
robbed look like they will be robbed in the next hour?" He continued:
"should the bill be allowed to go through in its present form, all
criminals would rejoice because then they would know that the danger to them is
much smaller than ever."
If all goes according to plan,
firearms in excess of the new limit of 5 would be confiscated by the South
African government within 5 years.
But compliance with South
Africa's new law is bound to be met with stiff defiance. The poor would be
effectively barred from the right to self-defense with a gun by the requirement
to obtain a "competency certificate" — and a 10-times increase in
the cost of a firearm license (unless, of course, they're inclined to gamble on
a 15-year jail term). In the U.S., poor people are sometimes disarmed through
expensive licensing systems (as in New York City), or a ban on affordable
defensive guns (as in California, which bans these guns with the racist epithet
"Saturday Night Special.")
Viljoen, former South African
Defence Force chief (who was praised by Mandela for playing a leading role in
the peaceful transition to majority rule), said that to Afrikaners, surrendering
their guns to authorities was an "emotional issue" which would be
reminiscent of the 1902 Treaty of Veereniging. That treaty officially ended
the Boer War, and required Afrikaners to surrender their guns to the British.
"A century later we have to hand in our weapons to a black
Afrikaners comprise about 56%
of South Africa's white population. Their fears of disarmament are well founded,
and can only be heightened by events transpiring just to the north of them,
where mob rule now prevails in Zimbabwe. On April 18, Zimbabwe's President,
Robert Mugabe, branded
his country's white farmers enemies of the state. Three weeks later, he
vowed to seize half their land, and issued an ultimatum of "changing their
ways," or leaving the country.
and terror against
white farmers by Mugabe's thugs has become a daily occurrence.
While Louis Kok, chief legal
adviser to National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, declared that South
Africa's new firearm proposals would help police reduce violent crime, the
result of such policies has been just the opposite in other countries. Disarming
a society's law-abiding citizens only empowers the criminals. The South African Gun
Owners Association will be fighting hard against the new controls, but South
Africa's parliamentary system of government has few of the checks and balances
that are found in the American system.
Should the South African
government proceed with its plans to disarm its citizenry, we can predict with
confidence that more women will avail themselves of rape insurance policies, the
economy will continue to suffer, social problems will find no solution, and the
litany of broken promises will continue to grow.