Wisdom from another point of view
It seems sometimes that we get so wrapped up in what’s wrong in our own back yards that we can easily forget that our troubles aren’t as unique as we often tell ourselves they are. Everyone with two brain cells to keep each other company knows what a train wreck the current Canadian system of “gun law” is. The problem is that we get so wrapped up in it that we think we’re somehow alone in having to deal with such things.
We’re not. Not by a long shot. South Africa, for example, is dealing with pretty much the same foolishness; the parallels are astounding.
This article by Peter Moss was originally published in the Richmark Sentinel on September 30, 2009. If reading this gives you a bad sense of deja vu, don’t be surprised. Some things are just as dumb no matter where you go.
Registration, the big lie.
Peter Moss – Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The Firearms Control Act has not only alienated the police from the public – in particular firearm owners – but also brought the South African Police and Safety and Security into disrepute.
The police, in acting as custodians, promoters and enforcers of this Act as their duty and responsibility to the citizens of South Africa, have become the object of public doubt and mistrust in their ability and willingness to uphold public safety and security. The Firearms Control Act undermines the very foundations upon which public trust is built in seeking to disarm citizens who daily have to face violent criminals intent on inflicting trauma and depriving them of life, assets and dignity.
“Social philosophers and statesmen over the centuries have agreed that the first duty of government is to protect its citizens. Unless this is done, all else is futile. If the state does not guarantee the safety of its citizens, anarchy ensues.” — Stephen Mulholland, Another Voice, Sunday Times, Aug 6, 2000.
Every South African has a Constitutional right to expect to live in a safe and secure environment. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that this is indeed possible by protecting the right to life, liberty and property of its citizens. However, the State cannot guarantee personal safety, as it has no means to directly protect each and every individual. Therefore it is the duty of the State to ensure that each individual’s right and ability to defend themselves is unhindered with laws that would impede or obstruct their ability to do so.
The state must provide the infrastructure to control crime and ensure that crime is punished. The state must not impede citizens’ rights to defend themselves with legal limitations, unless for very good reason. Thus, a “partnership” is reached between the people and State that can last only as long as each understands the role they have to play and each carries out the duties they accept.
One of the most costly interventions currently undertaken by the SAPS is the registration of firearms. Yet the SAPS produce no report as to costs, value to crime prevention or prosecution of this administrative function. The hard-pressed taxpayer is being deliberately left in the dark and citizens simply have no hope of knowing if this costly intervention serves some useful purpose or if it is cost efficient.
How well does registration stack up against the available evidence?
In 1997 Sydney Mufamadi, in answers to questions, stated in Parliament that the amount of violent crime committed by licensed firearm owners was “insignificant”. This is estimated to be 0.05%. Registering the 99.95% of firearms in the hope of finding that 0.05% is like registering each straw in a haystack to find the needle.
Universal firearms registration is ineffective because it cannot reduce firearms deaths, cannot help police to solve crimes, nor can it let police know who has what firearms. There is no factual support for the claim that firearms registration can help the police solve crimes. The police in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland have worked with firearms registration for a number of years, but in none of these countries have the police found firearms registration to be cost-effective.
- A secret report from the United Kingdom police admits that their extensive firearms database has not been useful in solving crimes in that country.
- The police in two Australian states recommended the termination of universal firearms registration: Report of the Victoria Police on the Firearms Registration System, February 26, 1987 and Report of the South Australian Deregulation Task Force, Adelaide, October, 1985.
- The New Zealand government decided to discontinue firearms registration in 1983 after the New Zealand National Police recommended its termination since they had not found it at all useful. Despite drastic increases in funding in the 1970s, the New Zealand National Police were actually falling further and further behind. They discovered that, after several decades, their firearm registry hadn’t proved useful in solving crimes and it was diverting scarce resources away from more important duties.
- Canada’s recently elected Government has decided to abandon the firearms registry. It had been demonstrated that the Canadian licensing and registration system was not cost-effective and had not reduced crime. Research had shown that 71 per cent of firearm licenses were found to have errors, and over 250,000 guns were registered with the same serial numbers as stolen guns. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had said that they had no faith in the registry’s information, which listed barely half the country’s guns or gun owners. Moreover, the firearms register had not saved any lives: while gun homicide numbers were indeed down, the proportion of domestic homicides involving guns had not declined. Nor had the overall homicide rate declined, stressing that the actual increase in homicides suggested that crime rates were driven by sociological factors, such as the percentage of youth in a total population, and social conditions, rather than the availability of one method of murder. No evidence had been found that blanket gun regulations, even firearms prohibitions, contributed to the reduction of criminal violence.
- Switzerland has joined Canada, New Zealand and Brazil in rejecting measures such as the mandatory registration of long arms, based on the growing awareness that such approaches were not cost-effective and do not reduce crime.
World consensus on firearm registration
Two studies in Australia by the police were ignored for political reasons. A similar study in England by the police was also ignored. New Zealand dropped the registration of long guns for exactly the same reason. The Canadian handgun register has in more than 64 years of operation not solved a single case and continues to maintain a handgun register for political reasons only.
The report on the South African Firearm Register showed an absolute plethora of errors and incorrect information, at least 70% of the registry data is incorrect; this is consistent with other countries findings. No value or use has ever been established for this register.
Every country that has studied registration of firearms has come to the same conclusion; it is an utter waste of time, resources and money with no benefit to the police or society. There is absolutely no doubt that the SA central firearms register is no different and is a politically motivated waste of valuable police resources and scarce manpower.
The costs of firearm registration
The value return of the Canadian register upon which our even more complex and bureaucratic system is based is calculated to be $150.00 for every $1 million spent.
Costing billions of Rands and, more importantly, the lives of citizens, thousands of police members are tied up daily in chasing guns and recording useless data that never has and never will solve one single crime. Nor will this data ever offer any useful police intelligence that could not be obtained in a far more efficient and less costly manner. Criminals do not license their firearms and thus far have not been as stupid as government will have the public believe to leave licensed firearms that are traceable back to themselves at crime scenes.
Evaluating the results of firearm registration, the SA experience
The Firearms Control Act has effectively removed more than 1.5 million firearms from the public between 2004 and 2009 in denied sales and handed in firearms. Despite false promises of a safer South Africa, government denials and ‘spin-doctors’ glib words of praise the violent crime rate continues to increase and at the same time unwarranted gratuitous violence in crime is also increasing. Clearly government policy is at fault. While the SAPS cannot remedy that, they most certainly can point out the failings and decline to enforce this Act. Unfortunately the political stranglehold on the police is such that any police officer brave enough to do that would find himself or herself either without a job or in a dead end career path.
At the other end of the spectrum we have in the period from 1994 to 2000 a 21% decrease in murder. At the same time legal firearm ownership increased by 64% mainly due to sales to black owners who were previously denied ownership. No police intervention can adequately explain this crime decrease, no matter how it is attempted. No amount of conjecture on political stability can explain this decrease.
That the South African police have not reached the same conclusion is evidence of a willingness to serve political agendas rather than the desperate needs of society. This amounts to nothing less than the SAPS and government being willing to sacrifice the lives of citizens to achieve political objectives.
Nor have the South African Police reported this failing, which is ample evidence to the public that the police are not doing their duty, which is in breech of the contract the police have with the public and trust placed in the SAPS.
While the tide of violent confrontational crime increases, politicians grasp at straws to appease and placate the public instead of realising that current policy decisions need to be re-evaluated in terms of suitability-to-purpose and cost efficiency.
What needs to be done?
The justification for the Firearms Control Act needs to be evaluated as a first priority. The suitability and purpose of this Act must be determined in terms of world experience and criminological research. The example of the American success with reduced restrictions on firearm ownership and carry needs to be strongly considered in comparison to that of England or Jamaica. The claimed but as yet unproven return value in deterrence, prevention or punishment of violent crime needs to be urgently established as either valid or not.
There is little doubt in the public mind, in the light of world experience, that the Firearms Control Act has no hope of achieving its stated purpose. Government must prove beyond any doubt to the public that this Act has no potential to harm or endanger citizens, that it is suitable to the claimed purpose or remove this inefficient costly waste as soon as possible.
Ignoring public concerns of safety and security is not a sign of good governance.