|CHAPTER 9 CONCLUSION|
This dissertation has undertaken to evaluate the hypothesis that the implementation of a policy of stringent firearm control in South Africa will significantly decrease levels of violent crime.
The discussion began with an examination of pertinent literature. Owing to the longevity of the gun control debate abroad, research into the relationship between weapons and crime is plentiful. The review of international literature was by no means exhaustive, but designed to shed light on those issues particularly relevant to the South African debate.
By contrast, indigenous research into the relationship between civilian arms and violent crime, is extremely scarce. The little research that has been conducted is frequently plagued by various methodological flaws, lacking in reliability and validity, not generalisable and often premised on pre-existing convictions about the efficacy of stringent gun control. While the international literature is not exempt from these limitations, it does appear that several studies, such as those conducted by Kleck and Gertz, as well as Lott and Mustard, have managed to overcome the shortcomings that plague much of the remaining research.
From an examination of both local and international literature, it seems difficult to find research in this area that is considered to be methodologically sound. Nonetheless, official documents, such as the National Crime Prevention Strategy, make sweeping statements about the positive relationship between high levels of civilian gun ownership and violent crime, about which it is claimed, there is no doubt.1 It appears to the current author that the decision to adopt a policy of stringent gun control in South Africa was based on inadequate and selective evidence, rather than on well researched facts and a comprehensive understanding of all relevant factors.
As this dissertation has demonstrated, the relationship in question is extremely complex with civilian gun ownership possibly simultaneously decreasing and increasing the rate of violent crime. There are also a myriad of intervening variables that impinge on this relationship and affect the potential outcome of a stringent gun control policy.
In South Africa, rape, common assault and serious assault are very seldom perpetrated with a firearm and thus highly unlikely to be reduced by a policy of stringent firearm control. Those crimes routinely perpetrated with a firearm were found to be murder, attempted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances,
For these three crime types, it was found likely that many criminals would merely substitute another weapon in the place of a firearm, should the availability of firearms decrease. Given that assaults with a firearm are generally more lethal than knife attacks, stringent firearm control would probably decrease the rate of "escalated dispute" firearm homicides, which comprise an estimated 20 percent of all homicides in South Africa. For premeditated homicides and "escalated dispute" murders involving knives or other weapons, gun control would probably cause no significant reduction.
However, because of the specific role that firearms play in armed robberies, it is possible that the incidence of murder and attempted murder related to armed robbery might increase, as well as the rate of armed robbery itself. Should this analysis prove correct, it appears that the class of violent crimes most likely to be reduced by stringent firearm control is comparatively small.
One of the most reliable findings generated by indigenous research is that a fairly large number of licensed civilian firearms enter illegal circulation through the loss, theft and robbery of legal weapons. Given South Africans alarming level of firearm- related crime, this definitely needs to be addressed. Limiting civilian gun ownership would certainly minimise a ready source of arms for the criminally inclined.
However, reducing the number of firearms licensed to civilians will not necessarily decrease the general availability of firearms to the criminal population. While it is essential that every effort be made to eliminate the leakage of legal firearms into illegal circulation, there are a number of different sources from which arms can be acquired. There are also a large number of illegal firearms already in circulation. The ease with which criminals could obtain firearms from an alternative source should civilian pools dry up, is unknown. Thus, it cannot be assumed that gun control measures would necessarily deprive criminals of access to firearms.
A much neglected subject in the South African research is the pivotal issue of defensive gun use. There is important international literature indicating that firearms are frequently and effectively used to prevent the perpetration of violent crime. There is also evidence to suggest that civilian gun ownership might act as a general deterrent to the perpetration of confrontational crime.
Despite the significance of Wright and Rossi, and Lott and Mustard's findings, there are no comprehensive indigenous studies that indicate whether, on the whole, South African offenders are deterred by the potential of meeting an armed victim. While one local study put the incidence of defensive gun use at 2.5 million over a two year period, the incidence of DGU in South Africa has yet to be reliably established.
The incidence of robbery of a firearm indicates that at least a number of South African criminals are not deterred by the prospect of an armed victim. It is quite possible that both South African criminals and armed, law abiding citizens differ in significant respects to their American counterparts. The circumstances under which crime is commonly perpetrated in South Africa may also differ from those in the United States and may either facilitate or hinder the potential for defensive gun use. However, at this stage there is no conclusive evidence to determine how similar or dis-similar the South African situation is in this regard.
Finally, the alleged positive correlation between the prevalence of civilian gun ownership and the incidence of violent crime was investigated. An examination of the evidence from Southern Africa and abroad indicates that the alleged positive correlation has yet to be empirically demonstrated. Some of the most recent and reliable studies, in fact, find a negative correlation between high levels of civilian gun ownership and violent crime.
It is essential that South Africa take cognisance of the research findings from abroad and the success or failure of gun control in other countries. All the relevant data should be reviewed to avoid squandering scarce resources and repeating the mistakes of other nations. This being said, policy makers need to remain acutely aware of the unique situation in which South Africa finds itself. It should not attempt to impose policies that are out of sync with South African political and social culture, resources and government capacity.
It is also vital that extensive research be conducted into the relationship between civilian owned weapons and violent crime in South Africa, in particular the prevalence and effectiveness of defensive gun use. It is possible that the efficacy of stringent gun control measures could hinge on the prevalence of defensive gun use relative to the number of licensed civilian firearms that are illegally used in the perpetration of crimes. If the incidence of DGU exceeds the use of firearms in the perpetration of crimes, then stringent gun control measures could exacerbate, rather than ameliorate the crime situation.
As Wright and Rossi contend "The connection between guns and crime, while seemingly obvious and clear, is actually quite complex and rife with potentially counterbalancing interactions." 2 However, if the analysis of the limited available evidence is correct, it appears that the net effect could possibly be an increase rather than a decrease in the incidence of violent crime.
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