Tragedy kicks off gun control debate

By David Smith

Gated communities such as the one where Pistorius lives provide security but arguably inflame the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Photo / AP
Gated communities such as the one where Pistorius lives provide security but arguably inflame the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Photo / AP

This sudden, unexpected tragedy has traumatised the national psyche.

It has provoked debate about South Africa's deep-rooted culture of violence, especially against women, and raised questions over whether Pistorius, white and wealthy, will be treated more favourably than the 160,000 inmates who endure incarceration in Africa's most overcrowded prison system.

The tragedy has led to calls for a debate about gun control and gun culture.

Last weekend Trent Barcroft, chief executive of Chrysler South Africa, was in intensive care after being shot during a robbery outside Johannesburg. The great majority of cases never make headlines.

Up to six million South African civilians own guns - around 12 per cent of the population - according to estimates. Airports and casinos have prominent signs directing people to storage rooms to deposit their weapons.

According to police figures, the nation had 16,766 robberies at residential premises last year.

Gated communities such as the one where Pistorius lives provide security but arguably inflame the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

"There's no question that there's a gun culture," said David Bruce, a criminal justice researcher. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was an effective campaign, he added, meaning that South Africa now has strong laws on gun ownership. The Firearms Control Act of 2004 limits individuals to one gun for self-defence, and guns have since been overtaken by "sharp instruments" as the principal cause of murders. Many are still owned illegally, however.

The national murder rate has been declining for years, though an average of 43 lives are still taken every day.

Reeva Steenkamp's death came on the same day as public events decrying gender violence and just weeks after the gang rape and murder of a teenager. On Saturday one TV news presenter asked bluntly: "Why are South African men so violent?"

The immediate aftermath of the shooting brought online comments from white people blaming the failure of the black Government to tackle crime for making the likes of Pistorius feel they need guns to defend themselves.

One news site had to suspend its comments section as racist opinions poured in.

-Observer

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