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S.A: 'Most effective way to reduce gun deaths is to reduce gun availability', activists say

Police officer sorting through confiscated guns for destruction.   -  
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South Africa

The spate of bar shootings which has rocked South Africa has shed light on the issue of gun availability. Following the killing of 22 people this past weekend, the police ramped up their efforts to seize illegally held weapons. Among 3 sources of illegal gun leakage, activitsts point to a main one.

"The biggest source is loss and theft of guns from civilians, Adele Kirsten, the director at Gun Free South Africa says. 24 guns a day are either lost or stolen. Every single day, 24 guns move from legal hands into illegal hands. That includes private security; cops - two to four a day. So we have a leakage from both the state and from civilians."

During police operations, unlicensed firearms are surrendered to law enforcement officers and others seized for destruction. However, in order to solve the problem of gun violence, the possession of illegal firearms is not the only issue at stake.

"Ammunition is absolutely key. But what you see from the Soweto Tavern shooting is over 150 rounds left (behind). What does that tell us? It tells us that there's a surplus of ammunition that usually can signal easy availability, but it also signals organised crime", Kirsten adds.

Brutal surge in merders

It's not known if the shootings in Soweto, Pietermaritzburg and Katlehong are linked but analysts believe regional rivalries, competition between bar owners, an organized crime extortion ring are all possible motivations. Gun Free South Africa's director advocates reducing gun availability for security concerns.

"The most effective way which has been shown to work both in this country and in other countries, is to reduce gun availability, Adele Kirsten explains. You have to stop the flood of weapons coming into our society. Whether it's legal or illegal. So you have to turn off the tap, basically. But reducing availability, reducing access, less guns, means less dead people."

According to official statistics, more than 12,900 people were arrested for possession of illegal firearms and ammunition in 2020/2021 and the latest quarterly crime statistics will not reassure South Africans. Bheki Cele, the Police minister decried in June, a "brutal" surge in murders and other violent crimes. Between January and March, 6,083 people were killed -- a 22.2 percent increase from the same period last year.

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