The lower rate of gun ownership is largely the result of the country’s strict firearm regulations, which were enacted in the early 2000s in reaction to the violence that swept the country during the turbulent 1990s. Citizens are limited to one weapon for self-defense and a maximum of four others for uses such as hunting or skeet shooting. Gun owners must install a safe that meets police standards for gun storage and prove to police that they need a gun for self-defense.
In order to legally own a gun in South Africa, first the prospective owner undergoes a thorough police background check, which involves an interview with the spouse or partner, as well as two other people. Then there is a competency requirement, which encompasses training, as well as a criminal record screening.
“On top of that, the police have the discretion to give a licence or not, and the applicant has to explain comprehensively why they have to own a firearm. Put it this way, it’s a lot easier to get a shotgun licence in the UK than it is in South Africa,” Mr. Hood told Channel 4 News.
But the country also has a long history of rapes, homicides and break-ins, and now many South Africans own firearms for peace of mind or for self-defense. South African gun-control advocates say some 2,000 legal guns there are stolen by criminals each month, which lessens the effectiveness of the gun controls and increases the likelihood of law-abiding citizens stocking up on weapons to use in case of an attack.
A victims of crime report last year found that six out of 10 South Africans feared burglary more than any other crime and felt less safe in their homes than they did a year previously.
South African crime rates are actually declining, but the legacy of break-ins and murders is so strong than many urban South Africans still employ private security firms and arm themselves in case of intruders.
By some estimates, one of every two white South African households owned at least one firearm in the mid 1990s, and ownership rates continued to rise throughout the early 2000s.
“The teething problems in our democracy at this stage means that, unfortunately, we just have a very high level of violent crime,” the South African Gunowner’s Association Martin Hood told Channel 4. “The slight majority of people who own firearms own them for self defense.”