The proliferation of guns is what is driving the crisis of violent crime and murder in South Africa. At least this is what we are repeatedly told in nearly every media article that supports stricter firearm control legislation. The people and organisations who demand total civilian disarmament (or more accurately – “victim disarmament”) never miss an opportunity to loudly complain about our so-called “proliferation of guns” problem.
They shoehorn the term into research papers, policy documents, and media interviews whenever they get the opportunity, and the phrase has now become ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in fact, that it took centre stage in the Background and Purpose section of the proposed (and fortunately abandoned) Firearms Control Amendment Bill of 2022. The same amendment bill which sought to outlaw self-defence as a reason to own a gun in South Africa, and was subsequently killed by the massive public backlash such tyrannical foolishness provoked from the population.
If you believe everything you read in the media, you will likely think that South Africa suffers from a titanic-scale crisis of firearm proliferation. A crisis that is perhaps the single largest contributor to our current status as the second most-homicidal nation on Earth.
Except for one highly inconvenient fact: South Africa doesn’t have a problem of firearm proliferation. Not even remotely so. If anyone actually bothered to take a moment to dissect the claim, and compared our firearm ownership situation with those of other countries, they would instantly realise that they are being taken for a fool.
South Africa has a lower rate of firearm ownership than Denmark, Australia, Finland, and Canada
In 2018 the Small Arms Survey published extensive research about the global number of civilian-held firearms. The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located in Geneva, Switzerland. According to their organisational description they “provide information on all aspects of small arms and armed violence, as a resource for governments, policy-makers, researchers, and activists, as well as research on small arms issues.” Therefore it is fairly safe to assume that they aren’t captured by so-called “gun lobby”, and are a trustworthy and independent source of information.
According to the annex of their research paper, South Africa has approximately 9.8 firearms in civilian hands (both registered and unregistered) per 100 population. This puts us in 89th position globally pertaining civilian-held firearms. So, which 88 countries hold a higher ratio of civilian-owned firearms than we do? They must surely be murderous hell-holes and war-torn dystopias, judging by our astronomical rates of violence.
Let’s start at the bottom, and work our way up the ranks by looking at a few notable examples:
- Denmark – 88th place with 9.9 guns.
- Czech Republic – 64th place with 12.5 guns.
- Italy – 52nd place with 14.4 guns.
- Australia – 51st place with 14.5 guns. Yes, Australia has nearly 50% more guns in civilian hands than we do.
- Thailand – 50th place with 15.1 guns.
- Germany and France – 28th and 26th place with 19.6 guns per 100 people each: exactly double our number.
- Sweden – 22nd place with 23.1 guns.
- New Zealand – 20th place with 26.3 guns.
- Switzerland – 19th place with 27.6 guns.
- Norway – 17th place with 28.8 guns.
- Austria – 14th place with 30.0 guns per 100 people: more than three times that of South Africa.
- Finland – 10th place with 32.4 guns.
- Canada – 7th place with 34.7 guns.
- United States – 1st place with 120.5 guns per 100 people. Yes: there are indeed more guns than people in the USA.
Astoundingly enough, none of these countries can be described as dangerous or violent. I have certainly never heard of any of them being referred to as suffering under a crisis of “firearms proliferation”. Not even the USA which, in spite of having a civilian firearm ownership rate more than 12 times higher (or 1200% higher) than South Africa, has merely a fraction of our homicide rate. Comparing the latest statistics, South Africa has a murder rate nearly 6.5 times higher than that of the US.
South African civilians own three times fewer guns than Germans do
But what about the absolute number of guns? South Africa has 5.3-million guns in civilian hands, of which 2.3-million are unregistered. That’s surely a big number, and would justify the repeated referral to “firearms proliferation”? Unfortunately for those attempting to make this argument, the answer remains no.
The United States is a bit of an outlier, but an instructive one. With a population of 326-million people it has a total of 393.3-million firearms in civilian possession – of which only 1-million are registered. That’s 74 times more guns than South Africa.
Canada, with 36.6-million people, has 12.7-million firearms in civilian hands – more than double our number – of which 10.6-million are unregistered. The same goes for France (population of 68-million), also with 12.7-million civilian guns of which 8.2-million are unregistered. Germany has a whopping 15.8-million civilian-held guns for their population of 80-million, of which 10-million guns are unregistered. Turkey has 13.3-million guns (10.8-million unregistered) and Thailand has 10.3-million guns (4.1-million unregistered). Italy, with a population of just under 60-million people, has more than 8.6-million guns in civilian hands – of which 6.6-million are unregistered. Even Australia, with 3.1-million civilian-owned guns, equals South Africa’s number of licenced firearms.
As for countries with lower civilian firearm ownership rates than South Africa, but larger absolute stocks of guns in civilian hands, you have India (71.1-million guns), China (49.8-million guns), and Brazil (17.5-million guns).
When looking at these figures and comparisons, it should be clear to you that South Africa most certainly does not suffer from a crisis of “firearm proliferation”. Claims that we do are nothing other than baseless propaganda. Our rate of civilian firearm ownership is much lower than Western Europe and North America, as is our absolute number of guns in civilian hands. We wouldn’t refer to Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, France, or Italy as having such a problem. So why do we keep pretending South Africa does, and to the extent that we use “firearm proliferation” as a key central argument for civilian disarmament legislation?
Armed civilian populations are a threat to criminals and corrupt governments
In a country where the overwhelming majority of citizens are disarmed, and therefore completely reliant on the state or private security for their protection, a small number of guns in criminal hands will have a disproportionate impact. When fewer than 5 out of every 100 people are armed, it means that 95 out of every 100 are easy targets. From the perspective of the 95 easy potential victims, it may subjectively appear that the country is overrun by criminals swimming in a veritable ocean of guns. Which is understandable, but wholly incorrect and divorced from reality. Be that as it may, the myth of firearm proliferation is very useful for those who believe the state should have the sole monopoly on armed force.
The ANC-government, just like the National Party government that preceded it, are not in favour of having an armed civilian population. The more paranoid and corrupt a government is, which is a hallmark of socialist states with authoritarian aspirations, the stronger the urge to disarm the citizenry. It is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout the 20th Century and into the present day. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, and Communist Cuba all followed the recipe of civilian disarmament. More recently the Venezuelan government banned civilian firearm ownership before killing more than 6000 of its own citizens – many as part of extrajudicial executions.
Throughout the Cold War the ANC found close friends and useful allies in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba – all countries that found guns in civilian hands helpful and desirable until their founding revolutions came to a successful conclusion, upon which they speedily banned civilian gun ownership and violently cracked down on it. The old bonds created between these countries and the ANC are so strong that they continue to dominate the ANC government’s conduct regarding trade and foreign policy to this day. It is instructive to view the ANC’s attitude towards civilian firearm ownership as no different to their Cold War-era bedfellows (and Venezuela).
In this regard they were assisted post-1994 by numerous elements of the progressive and liberal orders, whom in their foolishness supported the idea that reducing civilian firearm ownership in South Africa would drastically (and magically) equally reduce our astronomical rates of murder and political violence. It was this idiotic naïveté of the liberals and progressives (and no shortage of malice from the likes of GFSA and their allies) that the ANC successfully exploited in order to pass the Firearms Control Act of 2000 – which was to be the first step towards complete civilian disarmament via incremental increases in restrictions on lawful firearm ownership.
A small number of privately-owned guns are what stand between South Africa and unbridled chaos
We know today that the FCA of 2000 completely failed at making any meaningful impact on reducing violent crime and murder. It has certainly not prevented violent criminal syndicates and gangs from freely obtaining as many guns as they want. Mostly with substantial help from corrupt government officials. Instead of fixing the real problem – the dysfunctional and criminally-captured police and criminal justice system – the government (and its useful idiots and sycophants) continue to trundle out the bogeyman of violence-because-firearm-proliferation as an excuse to double-down on failed gun control policy.
The only thing that has thus far prevented South Africa from completely spiralling into uncontrolled criminality, is the fact that we have firearms in private hands: private individuals and private security operators. If we fail to challenge the outright lies and propaganda the government uses in their relentless campaign to make us all defenceless victims of uncontrollable violent criminal excess, then perhaps we will deserve what we get in the end.
Written by Gideon Joubert.
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus.