An Inspection of the Relationship between Murder Rates and Legalised Private Ownership of Firearms in Southern Africa, with Special Regard to South Africa

Article and Images Copyright Richard Wesson 1999

A review of the data,

by

Richard Wesson

December 1999

Home page R. Wesson

CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

2. PHILOSOPHIES RELATING TO
LEGITIMATE PRIVATE  FIREARM OWNERSHIP

2.a The case for civilian disarmament

2.b The case against civilian disarmament

2.c Philosophical agreements

2.d Philosophical disagreements

3. EXAMINATION OF MURDER RATES FOR SADC COUNTRIES

3.a    Murder rates

3.a.i  Comparable countries

3.b Private licensed firearm ownership

3.c    Zimbabwe

4. COMPARISON OF MURDER RATES FOR FIVE SADC COUNTRIES

5. TESTING THE RESULTS

6. VIOLENT CRIMES

7. FIREARMS AS RELATED TO VIOLENCE

7.a Belligerencies

7.b Irrational violence

7.c Opportunistic murders

7.d Deterrence

8. MURDER AND FIREARMS

8.a    Effectiveness of firearms

8.b Overview

9. CONCLUSIONS

SUMMARY

REFERENCES

APPENDICES

A. WEIGHTING OF AVAILABILTY OF PERSON PROTECTION FIREARMS

B. STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

FIGURES

1. Comparison of opportunistic Murder Rates in Relation to Availability of Private Licensed Personal Protection

2. Firearms Schematic Showing the Categories of Illegal Violence


An Inspection of the Relationship between Murder Rates and Legalised Private Ownership of Firearms in Southern Africa with Special Regard to South Africa

1. INTRODUCTION

The report on Domestic Gun Control Policy is used by the Gun Control Alliance (GCA), and in particular by Gun Free South Africa (GFSA), as a major pillar in their aim of convincing the South African Government, especially The Ministry of Safety and Security, that legally owned private firearms are a root cause of violent crime in Southern Africa and especially South Africa.

Ms. McKenzie is to be complimented for having undertaken the extremely difficult task of obtaining almost non existent data over an extremely short time period and presenting it in a manner which is easily understood.

It has often been stated that statistics are extremely poor and often unavailable for South African, and indeed throughout Southern Africa. This document initially refers most often to McKenzie (1999). References relating to the McKenzie Report are listed by Section and page number while all other references are listed fully.

Indeed, there is so much distrust in the statistics issued by the Ministry of Safety and Security that GFSA uses statistics issued by the Department of Health relating to non-natural injuries. Unfortunately, these statistics are also of dubious research value as firearm injuries are not reduced to lawful or unlawful shootings and whether they are related to individual or organisational criminal activities. Also, these statistics do not include those non-natural injuries that are not treated in hospitals and clinics.

Furthermore, there is considerable confusion both in the literature and in common parlance referring to the term, licensed firearms. Licensed firearms can mean all legitimate firearms licensed to the Military, the Police, other Government departments, corporate bodies such as security companies, and private individuals. It can also mean firearms solely licensed to private persons and corporate bodies. It was therefore decided to refer to firearms licensed to individuals and corporate bodies as private licensed firearms.

To date, most argument has been based on anecdotes, opinion and emotion. McKenzie’s report has the most reliable data relating to legitimate firearm ownership and the effect and ease of licensing that legitimate private firearm ownership has on violent crime for Southern Africa. This document is an attempt to analyse the available data, with particular reference to the overall effects and their application to the South African situation.

Section 2 discusses the philosophies on both sides of the debate, Section 3 looks at the available SADC data with special emphasis of that which is comparable, while Section 4 shows the comparisons. Section 5 tests the viability of the results. Sections 6 and 7 discusses South African violent crime in relation to local statistics and international evidence. Sections 8 lists the conclusions.

2. PHILOSOPHIES RELATING TO LEGITIMATE PRIVATE FIREARM    OWNERSHIP

In South Africa, there are two distinct camps and philosophies relating to the legitimate private ownership of firearms. The Gun Control Alliance are against the legitimate private ownership of firearms while The National Firearms Forum support the Right of private persons to own legitimate firearms.

Both parties have strong views which can be ultimately reduced to the argument that their view is the one which will reduce or inhibit violent crime, and reduce the probability of an individual being subject to illegal violent attack.

Both arguments contain philosophical and statistical elements. Both arguments show a high degree of integrity and interest in the well being and security of the Nation’s poor and vulnerable.

A considerably shortened and simplistic summary of the respective philosophies is given below:

2.a The case for civilian disarmament

The GCA philosophy can be summed up by part of Adele Kirsten’s submission to the Seventh Session, UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, April 1998, "The control of small arms is crucial to our region, since the failure to implement effective controls will exacerbate crime, foster new political antagonisms, and undermine the region’s capacity for growth and development..."

2.b The case against civilian disarmament

2.c Philosophical agreements

2.d Philosophical disagreements

3.EXAMINATION OF MURDER RATES FOR SADC COUNTRIES

It can be readily seen that both sides are passionate in their belief that their argument is in the best interests of society. The GCA argument suggests a brave new world, while NFF takes a more cynical approach.

It was stated earlier, from the McKenzie Report, that, "The availability of accurate statistics is on the whole quite limited." (Section 2, page 4 {2, pg4}).

It was found that murder rates were the only common statistic to be found within the McKenzie Report. Murder rates were not listed for all countries, discussed in the report. However, it is fortunate that it was murder rates which were available as the degree of reporting murders is almost 100%. Dead bodies tend to be difficult to ignore.

The degree of reporting of other crimes may vary from country to country and is difficult to estimate. The current controversy relating to the degree of rapes reported in South Africa is a case in point.

Murder rates are probably as good a general indicator of violence as any statistic. However, the problem of violence is extremely complex. There are a considerable number of factors which contribute to the culture of violence within a society. Some of the most commonly considered factors are recent and past histories, general economic trends, degree of urbanisation and population density, the existence of a warrior culture, effectiveness of policing, effectiveness of the criminal justice system, differentials between the highest and lowest earners in society and the presence or absence of a safety net for the under class.

Crime levels can also vary due to factors which are considered unrelated. An example would be if transportation in an area became extremely difficult due to increased costs or due to regulation. A large number of people who rely on this transport to commute to work would now be unable to do so and would lose their employment.

Of these people, a proportion may resort to crime as a means of putting food on the table. The crime figures would go up as a result of the transport problem. It may just as easily drop if new transport became available.

A further difficulty is the danger of transposing crime analysis subsets to the whole set, especially when considering a heterogeneous region. South Africa is a heterogeneous country, so is the SADC region.

McKenzie states, "... While it is difficult to attribute low crime to strict gun control measures alone, they are certainly a contributing factor, Thus, in Botswana the number of murders per 100 000 people is less than 15, while in South Africa it is 64.4 per
100 000 people, more than four times that of Botswana." (5.2 p 31/32)

The argument is therefore "the removal of private licensed firearms will reduce violence, and especially deaths" and it is this which must be shown to be true.

3.a Murder rates

Data relating to violence are not readily available for countries outside South Africa. As stated earlier, some data for murders are available in Mckenzie’s report.

It was found that six of the countries examined in the McKenzie Report had given murder rates. It is unfortunate that murder statistics were not found for Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania or Zimbabwe. However, murder rates could be reduced for the remaining countries. They are as follows:

COUNTRY

POPULATION

No. MURDERS

MURDER RATE

Botswana 1.60m 217 (4.1.2, p 7) 14 per 100 000
Namibia 1.62m 82 (4.2.2 p 10) 5 per 100 000
Lesotho 2.10m 325 (4.3.2 p 12) 15.5 per 100 000
RSA 43.0m 12 267 (4.6.2 p 21) 64 per 100 000
Swaziland 0.97m (4.7.2 p 24) 80 per 100 000
Zambia 10.0m 1347 (4.9.2 p 28) 13 per 100 000

Initial inspection of the murder rates of Botswana and South Africa would suggest that the hypothesis ‘legal privately owned firearms contribute to murder rates’ has merit. Unfortunately, further inspection shows that Botswana is grouped with Lesotho and Zambia in having similar murder rates; 14, 15.5 and 13 respectively. Lesotho and Zambia allow ownership of licensed personal protection firearms. Botswana allows no licensed person protection firearms. Nor is Namibia’s low murder rate of 5 per 100 000 considered.

This strongly suggests that there are other factors at work. This comparison of Botswana and South Africa is akin to taking a random group of men and women. The most intelligent man and one of the least intelligent women are chosen. On the basis of these two people, the statement is made, "Look, this man is much more intelligent than this woman, therefore all men are more intelligent than all women!"

It is therefore scientifically unethical to accept the Botswana/South Africa relationship without deeper investigation. The conclusions are not based on rational analysis.

At best, initial examination of

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