How do we protect ourselves without guns?

David Yutar

July 01 2004 at 09:53AM

“How will we protect our families now? Criminals prefer unarmed victims and so does the African National Congress.”

That was the message from members of Victims Against Crime who demonstrated outside parliament to protest against the new Firearms Control Act.

The legislation, which became law at midnight, introduces new and stringent measures to regulate gun ownership by private citizens.

Charl van Wyk, chairman of Victims Against Crime, said his group regarded the new law as nothing short of “illegitimate” and an infringement of the citizen’s “inalienable right to defend himself and his or her family”.

Van Wyk was the congregant who shot back at the attackers who stormed the St James Church on July 25, 1993. The attackers killed 11 worshippers.

Van Wyk said the act would make it a privilege to own a firearm whereas, under the previous law, it had been a right.

“In terms of the new law, a person will have to prove his need (to possess a firearm).

“You will have to prove that (possession of a firearm) is essential and, only if that need cannot reasonably be satisfied by means other than the possession of a firearm, may a licence be issued to you.”

He said “a law that made it impossible to defend one’s family was an illegitimate law”.

The new act also encroached on a person’s rights to privacy and to property, and it violated the presumption of innocence by placing the onus on a gun owner to show that his or her possession and use of a firearm was lawful, Van Wyk said.

Van Wyk claimed that no research had been done into defensive gun use in South Africa.

“The times that firearms are used (by law-abiding citizens) in a positive way far outweigh the cases where it has negative consequences,” said Van Wyk.

The Human Sciences Research Council conducted a survey that found that firearms were used in self- defence on about 81 000 occasions each year, he said.

Moreover, Magnum Magazine had done a survey showing this figure to be higher at over one million cases a year.

Steve Swart, of the African Christian Democratic Party, was also present at the protest and said his party had voted against the new law.

He said the cost of implementation was exorbitant and that the money should rather be used to better equip police officers to combat crime and take the approximately four million illegally owned firearms off the streets of South Africa.

“We support the right of responsible firearm ownership to enable the citizen to protect himself and members of his or her family,” he said.

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