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What Are The Current Gun Laws? SA Vs. US?

Author: Melissa Cohen
Date: 2017-10-10
With the recent spate of gun violence in the US, many question their current gun laws. We compare the laws in the US to that of SA.
Last week saw one of the biggest mass murders in American history. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, murdered 58 innocent people while injuring over 500 at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Paddock was a lone shooter in the attack. Reports confirm that he had no association with any radical terrorist organisation or movement. Paddock's body was found in his Mandalay Bay Hotel room. Police also found 23 different firearms and over 1 600 rounds of ammunition. To date, there have been 477 deaths due to mass shootings in the US. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the US government have been under pressure to alter the current US gun laws, or lack there of.
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What Do The Stats Say? 

In the US, owning a gun is as easy as owning a pair of shoes. You can literally buy your gun with your bread and milk at the local supermarket. The current gun laws in the US are questionable, because anyone who wants a gun has the opportunity of purchasing it - no questions asked. According to a study conducted by CNN, Americans own nearly half (48%) of the world's estimated 650 million civilian-owned guns. Four in ten people own a firearm or live with someone who owns a firearm. And a whopping 66% of gun owners in the US, own more than one gun.

So What Is The US Government Actually Doing?

In February this year, US President Donald Trump signed measures to restrict those suffering with a mental illness from owning a gun. In recent months, there have been many debates surrounding gun control. Members of the NRA have argued that their rights to protection shouldn't be taken away. The NRA is an organisation created to oppose any gun restrictions in the United States. Although mental illness might be viewed as one of the many reasons for gun violence, other issues such as poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and a history of violent acts have played a huge role in perpetrators' motives. The government is currently aiming to strengthen background checks on people who wish to purchase guns. They also plan on banning high-capacity gun magazines and military assault rifles.

Bump Stock Device

More information has emerged from the shooting saying that the killer had used a 'bump stock device' while carrying out the attack. This device inflicted a lethal effect. On Thursday, the White House and the NRA reached a decision that they would be restricting the sales of the device. This was a small regulation in the huge gun catastrophe that plagues the US on a daily basis. The bump stock device was originally manufactured for disabled gun owners, as it was aimed to make firing easier. The device fits on a semi-automatic gun and converts the gun legally to an automatic firearm. This devices allows the firing of between 400 to 800 rounds of bullets a minute. This is the reason Paddock was able to injure and kill so many people in such a short period of time. In 2010, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approved the sales of these devices saying that it didn't violate federal law. Many people have blamed the Obama Administration for the implementation.

What About SA Gun Laws? 

Although shooting plagues South Africans on a daily basis, the laws behind being in possession of legal firearms are actually really strict. The main problem that SA faces is corruption and theft. This enables perpetrators and grants them access to these lethal weapons. According to South Africa Gun Association's (SAGA) John Welsch, the licensing procedure for South Africans who want to obtain a legal gun license is a lengthy one.
"Since 1985, SAGA has presented to government the idea of licensing of the person and mere registration of the firearm. We believe the proficiency and competence of the person is far more important than the licensing of the firearm. SAGA is not alone in this thinking since Switzerland and Canada, both countries that have very high civilian firearm possession, specifically apply strict rules to ensure that firearm owners are and remain competent."
There are around 2.2 million persons and institutions in the country who are legally allowed to possess a firearm.

The Firearms Control Act

The Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000, regulates the legal use and possession of firearms to South African citizens. Welsh believes that SA has a good system, compared to that in the US, however the country is riddled with other issues like theft, which affects the gun control. "The Firearms Control Act lays the foundation for the licensing of the person prior to the application for, and issue of a license to possess a firearm, the person must be declared competent to possess. Obviously criminals do not have to do this," explains Welsch.

What Is The Criteria? 

Here is the list of checks that need to be conducted on a person before they can receive a license:
  • Competency test;
  • Background check;
  • Inspection of owner's premises;
  • Licensing of weapon by police.
The application process is estimated at taking around 90 days. According to the Act, a person may be issued with a firearm license in the event that they:
  • Need a firearm for self-defence; and
  • Cannot reasonably satisfy that need by means other than the possession of a firearm.

When Can You Use Your Firearm? 

There are various reasons why people apply for a firearm license. Many citizens want protection, while others use firearms for hunting and sports. But when can you actually use a firearm? According to Welsch, there are very specific laws when it comes to pointing or firing a gun at someone else. "Law abiding citizens may shoot at another person under two circumstances only:
  • (i) when acting in private or self-defence; and
  • (ii) subject to the provisions of section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, when the suspect violently resists arrest or flees after having committed a serious and violent crime, the arrestor is entitled to use a certain degree of force to overcome the resistance or prevents the fleeing, which force may, in exceptional circumstances include lethal force."
The Constitutional Court states that lethal force may only be used if a person's life is in danger. This is the same for pointing a firearm at another person. You may not point a gun at someone unless there is justification for you to do so. However, the gun control laws in South Africa are still plagued by challenges. Although this may be the case, Welsch believes that SA's gun control far outweighs that of the US.   Start your car insurance quote.  

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