Why I've gone off guns

Douglas Gibson says the weapons he once owned ultimately left him feeling unsafe

I am much less keen on guns now than I once was. Every tragedy with weapons here and in countries like the USA, such as the Oscar Pistorius case and the school shootings in America, underlines that guns in the wrong hands are lethal.

Years ago while I was the Opposition spokesperson on Safety and Security, I knew that many ordinary South Africans feared for their lives.  A gun free South Africa then was a pipe dream.  The state was unable to protect its citizens and they were entitled to demand, as they did with my support, the right to defend themselves.  I made the point then that the government was continually trying to regulate and reduce the number of legal guns while doing too little about the hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons in the hands of criminals. 

Although the murder rate has dropped significantly over the past few years, criminals still run rampant with illegal weapons - sometimes stolen from careless or unlucky policemen. The stage has still not been reached when it would be possible to persuade large numbers of South Africans to disarm themselves and I understand and support their right to feel that.  When the crime rate is brought down to respectable levels, we can talk again about being gun free.

Many in the United States and some in South Africa have an almost religious obsession about gun ownership and the right to bear arms.  I have always believed that right is not absolute.  In a constitutional state, it is and must remain the duty of the authorities to regulate and to licence.

The government's new Dangerous Weapons Bill has gone through a long process.  It still has flaws to be fixed but it is a vast improvement on the original 2011 bill.  After some amendment, It will probably be supported by sensible people like Dianne Kohler Barnard MP because it seeks to consolidate legislation and regulate the carrying of dangerous weapons during protests.  Think Marikana.  Unlike some previous gun control legislation, the Minister is on the right track.

For my own part, however, I am now gun free.  Just before my posting as ambassador to Thailand, I went to the Police Station and surrendered my two firearms, quite simply because I no longer wanted them.  They did not make me feel safer.  My wife had the key to the safe place where they were kept and I did not even know where the key was hidden.  Any robbers who attacked us would not believe me if I told them that.

Having guns merely endangered me and my wife because they would never be taken out in time to defend us and were an invitation to robbers to torture or kill us in attempting to take the weapons from us. Other South Africans may feel differently and it is their right to do so, provided always that they take every precaution and use their weapons responsibly.  The Pistorius case is sub judice but can anyone say that firing four shots through a locked bathroom door is responsible use of a weapon, even if you think you are firing at a burglar?

Douglas Gibson is former Opposition Chief Whip and Ambassador to Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @dhmgibson

This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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