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New gun lobby to fight weapons restrictions in crime-plagued South Africa

AP

Friday, January 27, 2006    

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - South African gun lobbyists set up a new organisation yesterday to press the case that more - not fewer - weapons are needed to curb crime in a country notorious for murders and armed robberies.

The executive director of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, was drafted in to back demands for the scrapping of post-apartheid legislation restricting ownership of firearms.

"I can predict that the violent crime rate and murder will increase if this law continues to be implemented," Pratt told The Associated Press before the inaugural meeting of Gun Owners of South Africa. "The only way to tackle this Wild West scenario is to allow the good guys to have guns. ... The criminal in South Africa has too much freedom of action, too much job security."

South Africa's Safety and Security Ministry, which collected and destroyed nearly 100,000 unlicensed and 46,000 legally-owned guns during a six-month amnesty last year, dismissed the claims.

"Very few countries subscribe to that way of thinking," said ministry spokesman Trevor Bloem. "Gun control is here to stay across the world, including in the United States. Anything else would lead to chaos."

About 100 people - most of them middle-aged white men - attended the Gun Owners of South Africa launch at a hall in an industrial suburb of Cape Town.

South Africa's 45 million people own an estimated 3.7 million licensed guns and many more illegal ones. Gun ownership is deeply embedded in the national culture - as is violence following decades of brutal government repression under white rule.

At the birth of all-race democracy in 1994, South Africa had the world's highest homicide rate - 67 per 100,000 population - largely because of violence in the country's impoverished and overcrowded townships. The rate fell to 40 per 100,000 in 2004, behind Colombia at 67 and Jamaica at 59 per 100,000.

Violence accounted for almost half the 25,000 fatal injuries in South Africa in 2003, according to a report by the Medical Research Council. More than 6,000 people died from gunshot wounds - as many as those killed in road accidents, it said.

A separate report by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa said 19 per cent of people it surveyed had suffered an attack on themselves or a family member last year, and 57 per cent feared crime in their own homes.

The Firearms Control Act, which came into force in 1994, introduced licensing requirements and background checks on gun owners. It also limited ownership to one gun for self defence and up to four for occasional hunters.

Charl van Wyk, head of the new Gun Owners of South Africa, said the bill was a "disgrace" that denied honest people the right to self-defence.

"We want the Firearms Control Act scrapped altogether, and we want a constitutional amendment to ensure we have the right to have firearms to protect our families," he said.

Pratt, whose organisation says it has 300,000 members in the United States, said Florida saw a big reduction in crime after the introduction of laws in 1987 allowing people to carry concealed weapons.

Professor Gavin Cawthra, director of the Center for Defense and Security Management at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, said the gun lobby relies on a very selective use of statistics.

"South Africa has got very high rates of crime and it has got one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world," he said. "Virtually every firearm owned by criminals was once legally owned by a non-criminal and it got lost or stolen."

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