|CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW|
Desiree Hansson's dissertation1 is a useful resource that focuses on the fatal use of guns by civilians, police and private security officers in the Cape Town area prior to 1991. While her dissertation covers the period prior to democratisation and her focus is not specifically on the criminal use of firearms in the perpetration of violent crime, it provides a useful review of South African and international research. In a manner somewhat unique to the South African literature, it specifically delineates all the major issues inherent in the gun control debate such as the lethality of firearms relative to other weapons, the possible substitution effect if access to firearms is curtailed, defensive gun use etc. In particular, her dissertation gives a unique insight into firearm related issues in the previous dispensation. In that way it provides a background to the current firearm control debate.
The most comprehensive work to date on firearm distribution in South Africa has been compiled by Robert Chetty2 of the National Secretariat for Safety and Security. Chetty aims to provide policy makers with fundamental data relating to firearm proliferation in South Africa. Chetty's compilation of material on firearm- related crime, firearm deaths and injuries as well as a detailed account of the distribution of licensed firearms in South Africa, is an invaluable source of statistical information. His book is effectively an audit of the available factual information pertaining to firearms and he deliberately presents the data without commentary or interpretation.
Despite Chetty's attempt at objectivity, one of the basic presuppositions of the research is that the proliferation of firearms contributes to high levels of violence in South Africa. In the foreword Dr. Fanaroff writes, "There is no doubt that the easy availability of firearms contributes to the high level of violence and violent crime."4 It is this very pre-existing presumption that undermines the validity of most of the research in this area.
While the factual information presented in his book is undoubtedly valid, the way in which information is presented as well as certain omissions, belie the predisposition of the authors. No attempt is made to detail those cases where individuals have effectively used their firearms to deter violent criminals, only those in which firearms have been wrongfully used. Rather than the focus of the book being on firearm use as the title would suggest, all the information presented relates to the abuse of firearms in South Africa. Nonetheless, the information provided is an extremely useful compilation of official data.
Whereas Chetty aims to provide policy makers with raw factual data pertaining to firearms in South Africa, Gamba 5 attempts to use available research to persuade policy makers on the need for more stringent gun control. Of all the South African publications considering firearms and related issues in the post-apartheid era. Society Under Siege: Managing Arms in South Africa is one of the most academically sound and fair treatments of selected aspects of the topic, despite its avowed commitment to strict gun control. The research conducted is reliable, well informed and the claims made are well substantiated.
This book is primarily concerned with the connection between legal weapons, illegal weapons and the culture of violence in South Africa. It highlights the regional flow of illicit weapons explaining how the flux of weapon's flow depends largely on supply and demand. It also discusses how the distinction between legal and illegal weapons becomes blurred through the loss and theft of licensed weapons. This publication specifically aims to be policy relevant6 and contains recommendations for the revision of firearm legislation in South Africa.
The findings contained in Society Under Siege: Managing Arms in South Africa are certainly important and cognisance must be taken of them. However, the authors make an ardent plea for stricter gun control on the basis of their research findings, while neglecting to investigate other relevant factors that impinge heavily on the relative efficacy of stringent gun control measures.
Anthony Altbeker's case study7 on gun crime and self-defence, is one of the few South African studies that focuses specifically on the issue of defensive gun use. The scarcity of indigenous research in this area is unfortunate given the pivotal place it deserves in the gun control debate.
Altbeker reviewed 602 police dockets on violent crimes occurring in Alexandra and Bramley in early 1997. He found that only fifty (8 percent) of the victims had a licensed firearm with them at the time of the attack. In only one quarter of these cases was the victim able to use a firearm in self-defence. Altbeker uses these results to assert that victims were four times more likely to have their firearms stolen than to use them in self-defence.8
This statement certainly holds true for the cases that Altbeker examined. However, these were by definition cases in which the perpetration of a crime had been successful. It ignores the entire set of cases in which crimes were prevented by the defensive use of a gun. For this reason, his findings are not generalisable and give little or no indication of the prevalence or effectiveness of defensive gun use in South Africa.
By contrast, research conducted by John Mann in 1994, according to Hammond detailed 206 cases in which civilians had used licensed firearms to defend themselves. In 36 percent of the cases the attackers were killed or arrested by their intended victims and 64 percent of attackers fled. Eight of the victims died in the confrontation and no innocent bystanders were injured or killed.9 While this study alone cannot paint an accurate picture of defensive gun use in South Africa, it certainly seems to indicate that the utilisation of a firearm for self-defence may be more effective and prevalent than gun control advocates would like to concede.
Katherine McKenzie's work10 attempts to substantiate the basic presupposition of the gun control movement. By examining evidence from countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) she endeavours to establish the alleged correlation between the prevalence of civilian gun ownership and levels of violent crime. From a comparison of ten case studies McKenzie concludes that "the convergence of poverty, unemployment, a gun culture and the availability of firearms is a lethal combination which results in high levels of gun crime."... "Countries in the region with effective gun control policies and fewer firearms in circulation, have less gun crime and are safer than countries with permissive gun control policies and more firearms in circulation." 11
McKenzie's work has been subject to much criticism, most notably from Richard Wesson.12 Wesson considers those countries for which McKenzie provides murder rates and calculates an estimated murder rate for Zimbabwe. Motivating for the exclusion of Swaziland and South Africa on the basis of their dissimilarity to the other cases in important respects, he analyses the remaining cases. Wesson finds that in fact there appears to be a negative correlation between "ease with which private civilians can obtain firearms" and homicide levels.13
Both McKenzie and Wesson provide an interesting foray into aspects of the domestic gun control debate, but neither study in its current form holds up to scientific scrutiny. Even rudimentary quantitative analysis of the qualitative data gathered by McKenzie certainly does not support her conclusion as Wesson amply demonstrates. Despite the potential of Wesson's work, it is limited by the fact that it is primarily a response to McKenzie and other gun control advocates, rather than a proactive study in its own right. In both cases the results and conclusions must be treated with caution. What both documents illustrate most of all, is the need for further, more comprehensive research in this area,
South African research into firearm control and related issues is most notable for its scarcity and manifold limitations. Of the studies that have been conducted, most have been funded and commissioned by those with an outspoken predisposition towards stringent gun control such as Gun Free South Africa. Consequently, the research tends to be rather one-sided which results in an impoverished policy debate in the halls of power that lacks rigour and precision.
Research from abroad, and the U.S.A. in particular, is much more diverse and comprehensive and has generated important data which reflects on the efficacy of gun control in curtailing violent crime in other countries. In America specifically, the debate on weapons and crime is much more robust than in South Africa, given the sophistication of the "gun lobby", the longevity of the debate and the existence of outspoken academics and activists on cither side.
In the late 1970s Wright, Rossi and Daley undertook a comprehensive review of all the available American literature pertaining to weapons, crime and violence.14 Despite being almost two decades old Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America provides a very useful review of the research conducted to that point. Some of the main issues examined include, whether or not a causal link between private civilian firearm ownership and violent
crime can be demonstrated, the alleged deterrent effect of civilian gun ownership, the intrinsic lethality of firearms and the effect of weapons control legislation on violent crime. After surveying the available evidence, Wright, Rossi and Daley concluded that most of the research was marred by severe methodological shortcomings and on the whole, the evidence was inconclusive.15
In 1982 Wright and Rossi undertook ground breaking research of their own16 in which questionnaires were administered to almost two thousand convicted felons in correctional services facilities across the United States. Prisoners were questioned on the acquisition, carrying and use of guns and other weapons in criminal acts.
Of particular relevance is their finding that the prospect of meeting an armed victim seemed to have a fairly large deterrent value. About three fifths of their sample agreed that "a criminal is not going to mess around with a victim he knows is armed with a gun." Four fifths agreed that "a smart criminals always tries to find out if his potential victim is armed." 17 One of their most oft quoted findings is that three fifths of their sample were more concerned about meeting an armed victim than running into the police.18 While the vast majority of felons were not concerned about being arrested or imprisoned, they were certainly concerned about the prospect of meeting an armed victim.19
It also appears that this concern actually affected criminal behaviour. Data reported later indicated that about two fifths of the sample had at some time chosen not to commit a crime because they knew or believed their potential victim to be armed.20 One third reported that they had actually been "scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed victim".20
Wright and Rossi's findings support the claim that civilians armed with firearms constitute a significant deterrent to the criminally inclined. Their work suggests that defensive gun use may be both effective and fairly frequent, judging from felon's encounters with armed victims.
Kleck and Gertz 22 set out to determine how frequent defensive gun use (DGU) actually is in the United States. They conducted a comparatively large telephonic survey amongst the American population, making a special attempt to correct the errors and methodological shortcomings of previous surveys. Their results indicate that there are approximately 2.2 to 2.5 million incidents of DGU in the United States each year. If this is the case then incidents of DGU outnumber the use of guns to perpetrate a crime, four to one. These results imply that restrictions imposed on civilian ownership of firearms in order to reduce incidents of violent crime, would be counter-productive.
While Kleck and Gertz's results do not shed light on the frequency of DGU in South Africa, they do suggest that DGU may be more frequent than often asserted. Given the weighty consequences of the relative frequency of DGU, it is vital that a more concerted effort be made to establish the regularity with which this phenomenon occurs in South Africa.
Lott and Mustard's research23 is consistent with the findings of Kleck and Gertz. Using cross-sectional time-series data for U.S. counties from 1977 to 1992, Lott and Mustard found that allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deterred violent crime. When state concealed handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by 7.65 percent, rapes by 5 percent, aggravated assaults by 7 percent. Lott and Mustard also found evidence that criminals were deterred from confrontational crimes, rather engaging in less confrontational property crimes.24
As Wright, Rossi and Daley point out it is unwise to take the literature on weapons and crime as a lesson in scientific objectivity.25 Firearm violence and gun control are very emotive issues and research has often been conducted by stakeholders already firmly entrenched on one side or other of the great divide.
Much of the research is genuinely impaired by methodological shortcomings. It appears that in some cases the research design itself has predetermined the outcome, thus undermining the validity of the research findings. However, this criticism is also blatantly utilised by some merely to discredit any research that opposes their point of view. Despite claims to the contrary, it does appear that Kleck and Gertz 26 and Lott and Mustard 27 have managed to overcome the methodological flaws hampering much of the research in this area.
In South Africa it appears that much research has been done specifically with policy makers in mind. Although there is definitely a need for policy relevant research, this has resulted in a bias towards formulating the somewhat contradictory research findings into a coherent public policy. As this dissertation will highlight, effective firearm control may simultaneously promote and hamper violent crime in South Africa. The net effect of these opposing tendencies, remains to be seen.
1 Desiree Hansson, "Guns and Control in South Africa:
A Case Study of Fatal Gun Use in Metropolitan Cape Town, 1984-1991, with a Critical
Examination of Broader Issues" (Ph.D. diss., University of Cape Town, 1998).
2 Robert Chetty ed., Firearm Use and Distribution in South Africa (Pretoria: National Crime Prevention Centre, 2000).
3 Robert Chetty, introduction to Firearm Use and Distribution, 8.
4 Bernard Fanaroff, foreword to Firearm Use and Distribution, ed., Robert Chetty, 7.
5 Virginia Gamba ed., Society Under Siege: Managing Arms in South Africa, Towards Collaborative Peace vol. 3 (Institute for Security Studies: Pretoria, 2000).
6 Virginia Gamba, preface to Society Under Siege, xiii.
7 Anthony Altbeker, "Guns and Public Safety: Gun Crime and Self- Defence in Alexandra and Bramley" (Unpublished Research Report commissioned by Gun Free South Africa, 1999).
8 Altbeker. "Guns and Public Safety," 2.
9 Peter Hammond, "The Proposed Firearms Control Bill, Government Gazette 21193," (United Christian Action Submission on Firearms Control Bill, 2000) (http://www.pmg.co.za/FirearmsBill.UCA.htm) (03/08/2000).
10 Katherine McKenzie, "Domestic Gun Control Policy in Ten SADC Countries" (Unpublished Research Report commissioned by Gun Free South Africa, 1999).
11 Ibid., 3.
12 Richard Wesson, "An Inspection into the Relationship Between Murder Rates and Legalised Private Ownership of Firearms in Southern Africa, with Special Regard to South Africa," 1999 (http:// www.geocities.com/gnostos_2000/Gunrep.htm) (17/04/2000). "Id.
14 James D. Wrigbt, Peter H. Rossi, and Katherine Daly, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America (New York: Aldine Publishing Company, 1983).
15 Ibid., 12.
16 James D. Wright and Peter H. Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and their Firearms (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1986).
17 Ibid., 145.
18 Ibid., 147.
19 Ibid., 144-145.
21 Ibid. 154.
22 Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defence with a Gun," in Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology vol. 86 (Fall 1995).
23 John R. Lott, Jr. and David B. Mustard, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," in Journal of Legal Studies vol. 26 (1997) (http://www.joumals.uchicago.edu/JLS/lott.pdf (15/08/2000).
24 Ibid., 1.
25 Wright, Rossi and Daly, Under the Gun, 3.
26 Kleck and Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime.
27 Lott and Mustard, Crime and Deterrence.
|HTML Copyright © Crimefree South Africa 2002|