“All the scientific evidence shows that licensed firearms are an overall benefit in the fight against criminal violence.
Yet, despite them causing a reduction in murder rates, it would therefore appear that licensed firearms, especially licensed handguns are the butt of a paranoid fear which refuses to face reality, and which manifests itself in a hatred of those who are prepared to protect themselves and others if the need arises.
There is therefore a need for everyone involved in this debate to look at the scientific analysis of the statistics, rather than their emotions or apocryphal stories; but remembering that statistical data sets must be truthful, representative and comparable.”
– Dr Richard Wesson
Now that I have your undivided attention, I would like to point out that the chosen headline is patently false. Apart from confusing correlation with causation (a deadly sin where statistics and analysis are concerned), it also grants an attribute to legislation which is not inherent.
Laws can’t save lives. It is simply impossible. Laws merely attempt to encourage or discourage certain types of behaviour by threatening consequences. Consequences which always occur after the fact.
Which is why I tend to snort loudly at any claim that the Firearms Control Act of 2000 saved lives.
Yet it is a claim oft made by the anti-gun lunatic fringe. Somehow, through the complete disregard of facts and reason, a Dr. Richard Matzopoulos unashamedly claimed that the FCA of 2000 saved over 4500 lives between 2001 and 2005.
Now, there is a lot wrong with Dr. Matzopoulos’s research. The most obvious of which is the fact that it is impossible for the FCA to have saved any lives at all during the period in question. It only became law on 1 July 2004. It is impossible for any legislation to have a retroactive effect.
Hence Dr. Matzopoulos was fibbing at best, and committing academic fraud at worst.
However, it is instructive to note the situation prior to the FCA becoming law.
The South African homicide rate reached its historic peak in 1993, at just under 80 murders per 100 000 people. It then experienced its longest sustained decline in history. By 2004 the homicide rate was down to 39.4 – a drop of 50%.
Halving the homicide rate in just over a decade is no mean feat. But it gets even more interesting.
Research by Dr Richard Wesson, Does the Lott Model Apply to South Africa, pertaining the period between 1994 and 1999 presents us with two fascinating graphs.
The murder rate continued to decline while new firearm licences (mostly issued to the previously disadvantaged) sharply increased. Between 1994 and 1997, the firearm murder rate dropped by nearly 6.5% while 777 963 new gun licences were issued. Between 1994 and 1999 the percentage of firearm murders perpetrated by handguns declined by 22%.
We must bear in mind that the decline in the homicide rate had much to do with the cessation of the extreme political violence in the KZN and (now) Gauteng hostels and townships. However, there was a new outbreak of violence in late 1998 and early 1999.
Social and economic factors are also often quoted as causal factors for the continuous decline of the homicide rate between 1993 and 2004, but this is a bit of a red herring. The unemployment rate experienced a sharp increase from 1995 onwards. Police resources and personnel also suffered notable and steady reductions from 1995. Increased urbanisation, combined with a lack of respect for the law (a significant and understandable hangover from Apartheid), and a loss of hope by the disenfranchised was also present during this time.
All factors indicate that South Africa should have experienced an increase in violent confrontational crime (and murder) during the period in question. The opposite happened. And the only explanatory variable is the dramatic increase in lawful firearm owners during the period. When we control for all the social and economic factors, it becomes difficult to ignore that our homicide rate experienced its steepest historical decline whilst approximately 150 000 new firearm licences were issued each year between 1994 and 1999.
Anti-gun organisations often tell us that more guns equal more murder. The truth is precisely the opposite: more guns goes hand-in-hand with less crime. Dr Wesson’s research proves that the Lott model holds for South Africa, as well as the United States.
Returning to the title of this article – if we are going to make disingenuous, fraudulent claims about a piece of legislation, then it would be far more accurate to say that the old Arms and Ammo Act of 1969 saved more lives than the FCA did. Of course it did not, but since when did the truth get in the way of a good soundbite?
I am joking. Or perhaps I am not. Who knows?
Written by Gideon Joubert
Gideon is owner and editor of Paratus