SOON after the fatal shooting in which Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius allegedly killed his girlfriend, Reena Steenkamp, cries came forth for the banning of guns in South Africa, that is to make all of South Africa a gun-free zone. There are negative effects to having firearms in a society, but one has to consider the fact that the positive effects far outweigh the negative.
Of the 2.5 million times citizens use their firearms to defend themselves every year in the US, the overwhelming majority merely brandish their firearms or fire a warning shot, to scare off their attackers. Less than 8% of the time, a citizen will kill or wound his attacker.
In South Africa, where such statistics are hard to come by, a survey by Man Magnum magazine, taken before the new Firearms Control Act came into effect, concluded that firearms were used in acts of defensive gun use more than one million times a year. In other words, life and property are protected by armed citizens that many times.
We need to ask the question: do laws prohibiting firearms in certain places really prevent homicidal tragedies?
There is a striking paradox associated with mass murders. They are far more likely to occur in areas that have been designated gun-free zones. Worldwide, people in office buildings, hospitals, convenience stores, TV studios, chain restaurants and day care centres have all been targets of homicidal maniacs.
Mass murders have taken place in such places after they had been declared gun-free zones.
In 1999, John Lott and William Landes published a US study of multiple shooting incidents. They showed that mass shootings occurred less often in areas where responsible citizens might carry weapons.
Do mass shootings ever occur in police stations, on shooting ranges or at gun shows? Mass murderers select soft targets for their acts of violence.
Expecting a suicidal individual to honour a law prohibiting firearms is sheer utopian fantasy.
Gun-free zones risk leaving potential victims defenceless. All the school shootings in the US took place in gun-free zones.
In Israel, however, teachers and parents serving as school aides are armed at all times on school grounds, with semi-automatic weapons. Since this policy was adopted in the 1970s, attacks by gunmen at schools in Israel have ceased.
If the authorities enact gun-free zones, they must be aware that they are liable for any harm it causes. Why would those in authority rather see law-abiding, disarmed citizens die than risk armed citizens harming a criminal?
With lives lost in Germany and the US in schools which are gun-free zones, and no attacks by armed gunmen in Israel since teachers and parents serving as school aides have been armed, can't we learn something? History and common sense prove that gun-free zones are dangerous.
Charl van Wyk, Cape Town