South African Stupidity

Disarming the citizenry is not the answer.

By Dave Kopel, Dr. Paul Gallant & Dr. Joanne Eisen of the Independence Institute  

10/11/00 10:55 a.m., 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 Dispatchput 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 world's highest mortality rates from AIDS, South Africa and its people have reaped a bitter harvest.

More, the Daily Dispatcheditorial 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 research center.

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 families."

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 "robberies."

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 economic problems.

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.")

Constand 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 government."

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. 

Murder 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.

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