Senseless killings. We have had far too many of these lately. The most recent high-profile victim of South Africa’s plague of criminal violence is none other than the Captain of our national soccer team, Senzo Meyiwa. He was slain in a senseless act of violence, but then again when last did you hear of a murder which wasn’t senseless? I cannot fathom a single reason why an innocent person should be killed, and I highly doubt anyone else can.
Our coping mechanisms when dealing with immense tragedy are complicated things, I am sure any psychologist can attest to that. Hence we tend to look for meaning in meaningless events, and so doing occasionally misattribute blame to the wrong quarters. Thus shortly after we tragically lost a national sporting hero we needed to find some sort of scapegoat to hold responsible, and we found it in legal gun ownership.
Gun ownership is an easy target because it is an emotional topic, and because it doesn’t require too much cognitive effort to summon up a reason for throwing it upon the sacrificial altar. Doing so also helps us avoid facing the reality that our crime problem is far more complex, and infinitely harder to solve, than focussing on a single object we choose to vilify. It is depressing to confront the truth that things may in fact become a whole lot worse before they have even a remote chance of improving.
Our Crime Intelligence Unit, so critically important in effective policing, is in disarray. Our SAPS detective services have lost R30 million of their budget to none other than our “Blue Light” VIP protection unit. Our police service is suffering under poor leadership and insufficient resource allocation. The prospect that we will somehow gain the upper hand in dealing with crime in South Africa has never looked more dismal.
Spiralling crime has led to incredible examples of poorly thought-through reactions, such as Canal Walk in Cape Town enforcing random searches upon its shoppers, and a ban on legal firearm carriers on its premises. Of course the legal gun owners aren’t the ones robbing the stores, and it is questionable whether criminals hold mall regulations in high regard, but the policy stands.
Naturally firearm owners, long suffering under inaccurate public perceptions of guns, are rather annoyed by this. They have taken to social media, newspapers, radio, and even television to air their views and frustrations regarding the issue. Serious doubts regarding the legality of these stop-and-search tactics by mall security was also raised by the Confederations of Hunters Associations of SA.
The new rules didn’t only affect firearm owners, however. In addition to rifling through the handbags and trollies of their shoppers, Canal Walk deemed it appropriate to also prescribe what attire would be acceptable in the mall. This assault on basic civil liberties disguised as security measures went relatively unnoticed by the public, until a man was accosted by mall security in the parking lot. He was ordered to lie down and searched, without his consent by private security. He claims he was racially profiled, and I tend to agree with his sentiments. He is the first victim of the mall’s security theatre, and I doubt he will be the last.
Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In this case we have given up liberty to obtain the mere illusion of safety. It is time that we stop looking for easy solutions to complex problems, because until we can come to terms with the magnitude of the challenges that face us, and that it will require incredible effort to triumph over them, we will never come closer to achieving victory. Let us start moving this tired and old debate in the right direction together.