Henke Pistorius: evidence suggests guns may not make owners safer

Comments 5

All sides agree one thing: gun crime in South Africa is too high. But the white population of South Africa has no greater reason than others to fear gun crime, and evidence suggests that owning guns may not always make the owners, and their visitors, safer. It may do the reverse.

In a controversial interview published on Sunday by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper Henke Pistorius, father of Oscar Pistorius, accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, suggested that white people in South Africa need handguns for self-protection as the government is not doing what it should do to drive crime down.

Commenting after it was revealed that the athlete’s father, grandfather and uncles own 55 guns between them, Henke Pistorius explained: “Some of the guns are for hunting and some are for protection, the handguns. It speaks to the ANC government, look at white crime levels, why protection is so poor in this country; it’s an aspect of our society.”

His comments were immediately criticised by the ANC as racist, and a spokesman for other members of the Pistorius family distanced themselves from his remarks.

But is there any truth in what he said? Do people, and white people in particular, need handguns for self-protection?

Are white people a particular crime target?

Crime data is, of course, often patchy and, for a variety of reasons, police do not always record the race of the crime victim. But, combining population census data and the mapping of recorded crime, makes clear that white people are not particular targets of crime in South Africa, Lizette Lancaster, who runs the ‘crime hub’ of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), told Africa Check.

Indeed, a recent study by the Medical Research Council, and based on mortuary statistics, not police records, reports on page 21 that “the highest rate of firearm homicides was amongst blacks, making up 88 percent of all firearm homicides,” while black people form less than 80 percent of the population.

Going further back, further evidence comes from this 2005 study of data from 1994 to 2004. It found, as it reports on page 87 of the report, that: “The highest gun-related homicide rate occurs with Africans and Coloureds. So when we speak of homicide victims, we are most commonly referring to young, black men.”

What is higher among the white population, as this study from the statistics agency StatsSA pointed out, and as highlighted by an article in the Mail and Guardian this week, is fear of crime.   But as the other studies suggest, this is not based on a greater risk than that faced by any other group.

Do handguns offer owners protection?

At first glance, this might seem a dumb question. To many it seems self-evident that a weapon in the home, in the hands of the home owner, gives them a better chance of protecting themselves than not.

This “review of evidence” produced for the pro-gun lobby group Gun Owners of South Africa, assesses evidence from South Africa, the United States, and elsewhere, and asserts that it indeed shows that gun ownership deters crime and protects the innocent, through so-called “defensive gun use”.

However, gun control proponents suggest that the presence of guns in the home make gun owners, and their visitors, more likely to be victims of crime, for a number of reasons. These include guns being snatched by intruders and turned on the owner, the use of guns in incidents of domestic violence, and the presence of guns acting as a draw to crime gangs seeing to acquire weapons.

For Africa Check, it appears that evidence on this question in South Africa is insufficiently detailed to be conclusive, but it is noteworthy that, according to the ISS’s Lancaster, work done by her ISS colleague Gareth Newham and the SAPS Crime Intelligence unit between 2006 and 2009 showed that armed gangs often target homes whose owners were believed to have firearms in their possession, in order to get hold of those firearms.

The presence of guns in the home may indeed make the owners, and their visitors, less safe, rather than more.

Is the ANC driving gun crime down?

Lastly is the ANC failing to drive gun crime down? While all sides agree that crime is still unacceptably high, most also agree that crime rates are down substantially in recent years.

As the ISS’s Lancaster told Africa Check, based on police figures: “the murder rate has dropped by 54% since 1995 and overall crime by 35.5% in the past 8 years.”

At the end of last year, Africa Check looked at evidence from mortuary statistics and concluded that the drop in recorded gun crime had indeed been caused, in part at least, by a government policy initiative: the 2004 introduction of stricter gun controls.

Conclusion: gun crime high but guns may not make owners safer

One of the few things that all sides in the gun debate agree on is that gun crime in South Africa is too high. From the evidence, the white population of South Africa has no greater reason than other racial groups to fear gun crime, but gun crime remains a legitimate fear for all.

It also appears from our earlier researche that recorded gun crime is indeed on a downward trend, and to date we have seen no evidence to change our earlier conclusion that the gun control legislation that came into effect in 2004 has played a part in that.

Evidence on whether gun owners and those who live with or visit them, are safer or more vulnerable to gun crime because of the guns they own is, as yet, unclear.

In this regard, the evidence carried out by the ISS and the SAPS Crime Intelligence unit is particularly interesting as it is not produced by a particular lobby in the debate. Our conclusion is thus that the presence of guns in the home may indeed make the owners, and their visitors, less safe, rather than more. But more research is needed and we would welcome any evidence you could send us – either way.

Edited by Ruth Becker and Peter Cunliffe-Jones

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Comment on this report

Comments 5
  1. By Kreefstert

    Your conclusion is incorrect.

    This week alone in 2 seperate incidents a single woman and a elderly gentleman successfully defended their lives with their firearms.

    Both cases were reported on News24.

    Please do your research better.

    Reply Report comment
  2. By Chas Lotter

    This article is not journalism – it is fact-free propaganda.

    If Ntombi Dyosop aspires to write for public consumption then she should lose her prejudice and get to the facts.

    What makes it so sad is that she did consult with the firearm organisations and then ignored what they told her because it did not fit her prejudice.

    Reply Report comment
  3. By Benson

    This article is emotional nonsense playing with the heart strings of nation fed up with high crime and pushing their own agenda of gun control. If any of the proposed conclusions and statistics were correct they would shouting it from the rooftops, instead by their own admission the data is not even gathered, let alone analysed.

    Find hard facts from reputable academic sources from other countries where gun control has been or is effective and publish that instead.

    This article is opinion masquerading as fact. Pure propaganda.

    Reply Report comment
  4. By Greg

    Researched by Ntombi Dyosop?

    So many flaws in fact and reason and you still put your name to this drivel? You do GFSA proud I’m sure. They use the same tactics than you.

    Please do proper research and try again.

    1) Do handguns offer owners protection? May I suggest that a gun in the hand are a better solution than a cop on the phone. You mention a GFSA favorite, the abusive spouse that will batter his wife with his legal firearm. Can he not do this without a firearm?

    What alternative do you suggest? Giving in to the demands of the rapists of our woman and daughters like GFSA suggest?

    2) Is the ANC driving gun crime down? The violent crime have been on a steady decline since about 1997, since 2004 when the FCA was implemented the rate of decline actually got less. So how you got to the conclusion that the FCA are helping to reduse crime are beond me. As a point in fact, how many criminals do you think worry about the FCA?

    That bring us to your conclusion. With the flawed facts that you have you may think that true, but if you would do a bit of true journalism and actual research, I’m sure that you will find that if you make the occupational hazard high enough for the murderous criminal, that he will find himself an honest job. Criminals are searching for soft targets, people who are willing to be victims, people like you.

    Reply Report comment
  5. By JS

    You need to investigate more, because the ‘evidence’ on which you are currently basing your conclusions is incomplete.

    You also make the mistake of focusing on ‘gun’ crime in stead of the actual problem, which is crime itself. I will bet you anything that even if you were able to magically remove all guns from the world overnight, there would still be crime, and there would still be murder and accidental deaths – what will you blame then?

    GFSA’s claims of a gun in the house being ‘x times more likely to kill a family member than protect anyone’ is absolute rubbish and based on incomplete and selective data.

    But sure, there are unfortunate accidents that happen every day and every year, and some of these accidents do involve firearms – we can at least agree on that and use that as a starting point for a debate.

    Does that mean we should ban guns completely though?

    Before you answer that question, let me ask you this: should we ban swimming pools?

    ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ I can imagine you thinking, yet more people drown yearly than die in accidental shootings. (See this link for one reference: http://www.anesi.com/accdeath.htm)

    Now if you (like most people) argue that swimming pools should still be allowed then I ask again – why would guns need to be banned but swimming pools not?

    The argument for gun control is based on emotion, not logic or fact.

    At least guns can (and do) save lives, as proven by the examples posted earlier by Kreefstert.

    At least guns enable us to face up to the actual problem, which is crime itself.

    Reply Report comment

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