How to fix SA's finger-on-trigger society?
Court appearance of father for shooting his son reignites debate on gun control and SA's tense psyche
Tears were streaming down Emanuel Tshabalala's face as he appeared in court on Thursday to face charges for accidentally shooting dead his teenage son, on the same day the Constitutional Court ruled that 400,000 gun owners needed to get rid of their firearms.
“I can only describe this incident as a tragedy,” Magistrate Maggie van der Merwe said when she released Emanuel Tshabalala, 51, on a warning in the Lenasia Magistrate's Court. She granted him bail so he could go and bury Luyanda, 16.
The shooting has raised concerns over gun control and high crime rates, with the Gun Free South Africa, who acted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the Constitutional Court matter, saying Thursday's judgment was very significant.
Gun Free SA director Adele Kirsten said: “In the context of the recent spate of children being shot and killed following defensive gun use‚ the significance of the Constitutional Court judgment upholding regular licence renewals as a cornerstone of the Firearms Control Act cannot be emphasised enough.”
She cautioned‚ however‚ that Thursday’s ruling “means nothing” unless the law is enforced by the police and complied with by gun owners.
The Constitutional Court upheld an appeal by the minister of Safety and Security and dismissed a high court order which had declared that two sections of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 were constitutionally invalid.
The sections concerned the expiration and renewal of firearm licences.
Under the new law‚ any person wishing to own or possess a firearm must first possess a competency certificate‚ which expires after periods of two‚ five or 10 years‚ depending on the nature of the firearm licence.
The South Africa Hunters and Gamer Conservation Association said the Constitutional Court ruling effectively meant around 400‚000 gun owners who did not apply timeously to renew their licences were now illegal firearm owners and needed to hand over their guns to the police.But Dr Mbulelo Dyasi, the secretary general (SG) of the South African National AIDS Council’s Men’s Sector, which runs support programmes for men, said the real underlying problem was the high crime rate.
He was commenting after the accidental shooting in Ennerdale, Johannesburg. Tshabalala was waiting for his son to finish extra classes at school, and fell asleep in the car. When he heard a knock on the window, he thought he was being accosted by a hijacker. He fired a fatal shot, realising too late it was his son trying to wake him up.
“That father went there to guard his son as many fathers do today in Gauteng schools. He knew that crime was rife. If things were normal, he would not have been there with his firearm. The community needs to unite to fight this now.“South Africa today is known worldwide as a crime-riddled country, and it’s sad,” said Dyasi.
Dr Guy Lamb, a director of the safety and violence initiative at the University of Cape Town, said more checks need to be put in place before firearm licences are issued.
“It’s a personal choice to have a firearm but once an accident has happened, we can’t change that.
“Background checks, state of mind of the applicant, interviewing these applicants before allowing them the licences is key. These checks being regular, this can help such incidents from happening now and again as many applications would be scrutinised,” said Lamb.
He said there was a time when government was stricter on gun control.
“Crime was reduced and the country recorded about 10,000 applications for licences a year compared to previous years where a number of up to 80,000 applications were received,” he said.
“But today the number is back higher up and keeps going up as in 2016/17 100,000 new firearm licence applications were recorded.”
Clinical phsychologist Dr Saths Cooper, in an interview on eNCA, said in this case split seconds made a difference.
“The response without thinking is the issue here. If I get shock, I don’t reach for my gun. You need to ask other questions first. That split second different could have saved the child’s life, saved the family from trauma and that of the other kids who witnessed this,” he said.