The late Charlton Heston entered the halls of infamy, when in 1989, in his concluding address at the American National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual convention in St Louis, Missouri, he raised above his head a silver-and-gold replica of a flintlock he had just been given by the NRA, and said: “I have only one more comment to make: from my cold, dead hands.”
Mr Heston’s defiant statement came just three months after the Stockton, California, school shooting, in which unemployed welder, Patrick Edward Purdy, used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot and kill five school- children and wound 32 others on the playground at the Cleveland Elementary School.
The outrage which followed the shooting engendered calls for state and federal action to ban semi-automatic weapons.
In his concluding speech at the NRA annual convention in 2000, Mr Heston, then president of the NRA, repeated that action, but aimed it specifically at American presidential candidate, Al Gore, who was campaigning on a gun control platform. Raising the flintlock above his head, he said: “As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’”
Eighteen years later, America is no closer to amending its increasingly controversial constitutional Second Amendment, which affords American citizens the right to bear arms.
Gun deaths overall are up, and the incidence of school and other mass-shootings in particular, has escalated alarmingly.
Despite the apparent prominence of race issues in the American news media, the most divisive issue in American society remains gun control.
Mr Heston’s allusion puts the extent of the division in stark focus. Paraphrased. he is saying what all Second Amendment proponents feel: “If you want to take my guns away from me, you’ll have to kill me first.”
Although our constitution does not afford us an unfettered right to bear arms, many South Africans have followed the stringent requirements in the Firearms Control Act, to qualify for gun ownership, and they, like their American counterparts, arguably feel quite strongly about their right to bear arms, but there is a vociferous local anti-gun lobby group, Gun Free South Africa, which feels differently.
Gun violence in South Africa is a matter of national concern, but if the research that has been conducted elsewhere is any indication, limiting private gun ownership isn’t the solution.
The proliferation of illegal guns in our society is fed by thefts from military installations – Simon’s Town Naval base in 2016 – and from the police – a 2017 report by Major General Jeremy Vearey said that “between 2010 and 2016, at least 1 666 murders, 1 403 attempted murders and 315 other crimes were committed with guns stolen from the police”.
The latest brouhaha is all about toy guns, apparently used in the execution of crimes, because it is difficult to tell them apart from real guns.
Question is, would banning toy guns have any more of an impact on reducing gun violence than would an outright ban on real guns?
If American gun control research is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding “No”.
Dealing with the underlying societal issues that cause people to resort to crime has a far greater chance of success, but that is a long-term initiative requiring political will, an ingredient which is in perpetually short supply around here.