Click here to watch the documentary

A few months back I stumbled across a documentary that followed a pair of paramedics in and around Johannesburg, South Africa. The documentary focused on the disparity between rich and poor, those without the ability to pay and those with the ability to pay well, and the differences in how fast and how well they were treated for their injuries. As I was gearing up for my ambulance shift last night I was remembering one scene in particular from that documentary, and then it hit me. It wasn’t about wealth at all — it was about the failure of gun control…

In South Africa citizens have the ability to own guns, not the right. That ability comes after a citizen passes a competency test, a background check, and many other “ill defined” (as Wikipedia puts it) criteria. Even after passing the requirements the licensing process can still take 2 years. Even those who already owned firearms needed to re-register them and comply with the new law. Thanks to the lengthy application process and incompetence (or willful denial) on the part of the government in processing those applications legal guns are almost nonexistent. The New York Times reported on one South African gun store in 2005:

South Africa has a new gun-ownership law, and since it took effect on Aug. 1, Redneck Tactical Supplies, one of two firearms shops in this rather proper, white-picket-fence beach town, has applied to the government for ownership certificates for about 250 prospective buyers.

“So far, we have yet to receive one certificate,” Botha said.

The new gun law has weapons dealers and users up in arms, so to speak. Firearms sales, once 15,000 a month, have fallen to near zero, because of the law’s regulatory hurdles and the glacial government bureaucracy that oversees them.

[…]

The law, approved in 2000, limits most citizens to one weapon for self-defense and a maximum of four others for other uses, like hunting or skeet shooting.

I’m sure those words brought a tear of joy to the NY Times’ editors, seeing what was possible in a “civilized” society where guns were illegal. The issue is that violent crime didn’t go down — it went up following the enactment of new laws.

Murder has always been big in South Africa. The mid-nineties saw a murder rate of 66.9 per 100,000, a number which has since dropped to 37.3 per 100,000 in 2009. While that may seem like a much lower number keep in mind that the United States sees a murder rate of 4.8 per 100,000 as of 2010. So think about all of the “gun violence” the Brady Campaign is complaining about in the United States and imagine it happening almost eight times as much. That’s not necessarily a fair comparison due to the different social and economic climate of the two nations but it does give you a good idea of how common murders are.

While the murder rate may have dropped it’s the other crimes that are more unnerving.

Rapes are so frequent in South Africa that 1/3 of the women interviewed by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the last year. The country is commonly referred to as the “rape capital of the world,” ranking first in the world according to the United Nations for rapes per capita.

Carjackings are also extremely common in South Africa despite the low rate of car ownership. One insurance company no longer issues insurance to people who drive certain models, and people often disregard traffic signals in places where carjackings are common in order to get out of the area quicker.

Those are just the most obvious examples of crime in South Africa, and the regularity with which violent crimes are committed combined with the inability for the inept police force to react effectively and immediately have led people to live in gated communities, barricade their homes, and hire private security to protect them. In short, people live in fear from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep.

I was remembering the scene where the camera crews followed one of the female EMTs in her morning routine (hence the connection to my own preparations) and discussing the many security measures she takes just to go outside and drive around when the realization hit me that the reason why people live in fear isn’t because of the division between rich and poor but because of the unavailability of legal firearms.

Go watch the video at the top of this article and then try to tell me that none of the situations where someone’s personal defense were endangered would have been solved by the victim having a firearm. Illegal guns are everywhere, easy to obtain and used with alarming regularity (the opening shots show an illegal gun at a poorly controlled scene which had just been used to shoot someone) but law abiding citizens must instead resort to spending whatever money they make trying to buy themselves some security.

Despite their best efforts to secure themselves using gated communities and private security crime still happens and people still live in fear. One example from the documentary is where one of the paramedics gets a call from his girlfriend that someone is trying to break into the house and he has to rush home, worrying the entire time whether she was dead or alive and if she was okay. Police did not arrived in time, and while the would-be burglar ran away in this instance it was the fact that his significant other had no significant way of protecting herself that left her open to attack.

Even though murder rates have dropped precipitously in the last few decades in South Africa the rate at which people are assaulted physically and sexually have steadily been on the rise and are the worst in the world. Criminals are preying on the weak and the helpless and the government is powerless to stop the violence. Those who can afford personal protection live comfortably while everyone without a paid trigger puller or ten following them around live in fear and certain that another attack is imminent, and law abiding citizens aren’t given the ability to defend themselves. Guns serve as an effective deterrent as well as an effective means of stopping crimes in progress, and where guns are only in the hands of criminals crime reigns supreme.

South Africa is the poster child for a country where gun control has ruined the nation. Only criminals have guns, and only the wealthy can defend themselves. For the other 99% South Africa is a world of pain and suffering that could have been solved by recognizing the natural right of people to defend themselves and own firearms, but instead it has already slid far down the slippery slope of gun control.

Gun control in South Africa has forced people to live in fear for their lives, their well being and their property. Gangs and criminals rule the streets. It’s a pattern we’ve seen again and again in Mexico, South America and Africa where the inability for legal citizens to own guns and defend themselves and the inability for a country to police its streets has left the door wide open for criminals who don’t care about gun laws to take advantage of the weak and the poor law abiding citizen. And the best way to see it all firsthand is through the eyes of a paramedic.

That’s the world gun control advocates want for us.

And that’s when I finally understood the title of the film, an old Chinese proverb. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” I understand.

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42 Responses to Tell Me and I Will Forget: A Story of EMTs and Gun Violence in South Africa

  1. “Criminals are preying on the weak and the helpless and the government is powerless to stop the violence.”

    Um… what was their murder rate like before the end of apartheid? I’m willing to bet things were a lot better when the Afrikaners were running it. Look at what happened to Rhodesia, Liberia or even Detroit.
    http://www.iss.co.za/pubs/CrimeQ/No.7/ThomsonF1.gif

    • what was their murder rate like before the end of apartheid?

      Nobody knows, because when the Afrikaners murdered blacks wholesale, nobody kept count.

      • Governments cant commit murder, your an attorney, what about Sovereign Immunity? And the link at the end of my posts has racial muder rates for South Africa going back to the 1930s. Not really sure how Black and Colored is differentiated in their stats.

        And depending on what incident your talking about, it could be self defense. I tried googling it (south africa genocide under apartheid) and couldnt find anything other than the genocide of the Boer farmers. Care to cite something specific?

        http://www.genocidewatch.org/southafrica.html
        Genocide Watch has been particularly concerned over ten years at the hate crims perpetrated against Boer farmers and other whites… Now we have evidence of organized incitement to violence against white people. It began with the rise of Julius Malema, President of the African National Congress Youth League, who began singing the old anti-Boer song: “Kill the Boer” at rallies of the Youth League… The failure of the leadership of the ANC to discipline him and remove him from the Presidency of the ANC Youth League (despite his age of 30), have led GW to conclude that violence against whites is now being planned and incited by one of the most important leaders of the new South Africa… South Africa has not yet reached actual genocide… but the preparations for it are ominous.”

        • First of all, I wasn’t addressing governmental murders, which were bad enough, but civilian murders committed upon blacks by whites.

          Second of all, murder by people of any color cannot be excused. When the whites of apartheid South Africa murdered blacks, I’m sure that you were deeply, deeply against such behavior. The State, however, was not. Now, some South African blacks have decided that revenge killings are the order of the day.

          I’m sure you agree that racism breeds vicious violence and that you oppose racism completely. Right, matt?

        • Ah.

          Yes, murdering someone because of their race is wrong and i’m sure it happened, but dont have any stats of how often. I wonder how much of it was black on black violence during that era.

          It does breed violence, but I do not oppose racism completely. It does have a place and for good reason. Is it wrong to say that a Pitbull is bigger than a Chihuahua, or that a Greyhound is faster than a Bulldog. Is it wrong to criticize someone for their political or religious beliefs? They can change their ideology as easily as someone can change their skin color, although Michael Bloomberg and Jackson both managed to do so.

          Then why is it so wrong to say that certain races have certain qualities to them. For instance at my last job at a major insurance company, I worked in IT on a team of 14, there were 3 blacks there, 1 was fired for performance reasons about a year after he got the job, 1 (who was my partner) didnt know how to type and was completely incompetent and was fired, the remaining didnt know how to type and spent all day watching youtube and eating, he seriously ate 3 full meals every day at work, but wasnt fired just so it wouldnt look like the company was racist. Blacks outside my team couldnt perform simple tasks like reformatting a partition for me, even though they were level 3 systems engineers. I spend half a day with that asshole because all he knew how to do was recreate a RAID array, which would force windows to partition and format the logical disk. Yay for affirmative action!

          As for Africans, is there any African, black ran country which is a nuclear power? South Africa’s were taken away when apartheid ended. Is modern warfare committed by any African government, sans the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern nations? All you hear about from over there is people being hacked to death with machetes and pestilence.

        • I would talk about the Statues On The Jewry from 13th century England and modern day usury, but wordpress thinks it is spam, lol

        • Your racism and bigotry are simply appalling. Perhaps only excelled by your willful ignorance.

        • Note the willful part? That’s the caveat that explains why I’m not going to waste my time enumerating the various things you’re not willing to hear.

        • I’d really love to hear what i’m ignorant of. Speaking of which, go watch that video, tell me what you think of General Butt Naked’s stance on canibalizing your opponents, or their practice of raping virgins to cure HIV. What when they bribe General Bin Laden out of jail?

        • My goal, if there is one, would never be to attempt to change your perspective, Matt. That would be foolhardy. No, my intent would be to expose your bigotry fully for other readers. And this only so your more subtle points in other threads may be recognized for what they are and treated appropriately.

    • Matt,

      I work in IT as well, and I note that competence and incompetence is present in all manner of people. The commonalities for good colleagues are typically in what they value, not in their genetic makeup.

      People who value hard work, take pride in themselves, who value learning and want to be good neighbors are always good friends and associates. The inverse is true as well.

      It does seem that dolts can get a leg up, but whether a person’s advantage is nepotism or “affirmative action” it is morally wrong to assign qualities and attributes to an individual based on their race, faith (or lack of faith) or other immutable condition.

      I am very frustrated that should I judge another by the quality of their character, I can be accused of judging by the color of their skin. Nevertheless, the American ideal is that we are accountable for ourselves, not our fathers. We ought to be seen as individuals. I have to do the right thing because it is right.

      Further, to indulge in racism is counterproductive as it relieves people of their responsibility to be good citizens.

      • “I can be accused of judging by the color of their skin”

        Everyone judges people by their appearances. It may be wrong, but if you see a homeless man approach you, you’ll be more on guard than if a man in a suit approaches you. And often people cant change their economic circumstances any easier than they can the color of their skin.

      • When I was in College they had Magnavox Minority Set Aside Programs which were full of idiots which were politically passed. I would say the Minorities who were there of their own accord were actually fairly sharp and some were outstanding.

  2. “Those who can afford personal protection live comfortably while everyone without a paid trigger puller or ten following them around live in fear and certain that another attack is imminent, and law abiding citizens aren’t given the ability to defend themselves.”

    Examples as seen in the USA: NYC Mayor Bloomberg with taxpayer-paid police protection, vs. disarmed residents of NYC; Ex-Mayor Daley and now-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago with police bodyguards, vs. disarmed residents of Chicago; Mayor, Members of Congress, President Obama and VP Biden – all with taxpayer-provided bodyguards, vs. disarmed residents of Washington, DC; Leftist Mayors of every big city in the US that outlaw citizen concealed carry, vs. the disarmed, victimized residents of those cities.

    One of my favorite Democrat hypocrites was the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy, as anti-gun a politician as ever breathed, who had a personal bodyguard carrying a mini-Uzi in Washington, DC .

    Hey, the aristocracy of power has to be protected against the peasants, right? You know, in high school I read a fair number of Dickens’ novels. I remember reading “A Tale of Two Cities” [about the French Revolution of 1789], and feeling sorry for the poor French aristos who were having their heads whacked off by the guillotine. Not any more – all of my sympathies are now with the peasants who were doing the head-chopping. The world needs an occasional clearing-out of the aristocracies, including the self-appointed ones. About once every 50 years would be about right. Oh yeah, that was sarcasm, so don’t take it seriously, any leftist readers who believe in the benign aristocracy of the intelligentsia. It’s just a joke.

    • Take a look at one of the comments above yours and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that the racist right is just as dangerous, and just as stupid, as the aristocratic left.

    • “One of my favorite Democrat hypocrites was the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy, as anti-gun a politician as ever breathed, who had a personal bodyguard carrying a mini-Uzi in Washington, DC .”

      Teddy defended this on the grounds his two brothers had been assassinated. Fair enough, but plenty of higher profile lawmakers drove alone to work and didn’t have protection. Sadly this has been tragic for Gabby Giffords.

      The rest of America can count on 911 it seems.

  3. Nick: In 1995 I spent about 3 months in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia, and before that, Southern Rhodesia.) Like SA, a former British colony that in 1980 went to majority rule (i.e, the native blacks were in power politically.) Also Like SA, the whites had the majority of the money. And although violent crime levels in Zimbabwe at that time were much, much lower than SA’s violent crime rates today, I saw the same phenomenon of the gated communities with armed security guards 24/7.

    Having said that, regarding this:

    the realization hit me that the reason why people live in fear isn’t because of the division between rich and poor but because of the unavailability of legal firearms.

    Go watch the video at the top of this article and then try to tell me that none of the situations where someone’s personal defense were endangered would have been solved by the victim having a firearm.

    I can’t say I agree. While it’s true that in some of those situations firearms may have helped, it’s also true that if the bad guys have guns, too, and there are more of them, then I don’t think merely having guns would prevent this kind of social disorder.

    What we are seeing in SA (and in Zimbabwe as well) is a civilization unraveling. The racist right would have you believe it’s because the blacks are running things and the looney left would have you believe it’s because of unequal distribution of assets, but the reality is that these were societies that were, at their core, built on a house of cards and institutionalized repression.

    And just like in the similarly built societies of the Communist Bloc, once you remove the repression and force, these societies fall to pieces because there is no general consensus, no sense of “society” between the very diverse groups vying for power.

    I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, we don’t need to mirror the anti-gunners who try to argue that guns are the cause of all our problems, by stating that guns are the solution to them. Sometimes a gun is just a gun, and if civilization is collapsing around you, merely owning a gun isn’t going to protect you for very long.

    • While it’s true that in some of those situations firearms may have helped, it’s also true that if the bad guys have guns, too, and there are more of them, then I don’t think merely having guns would prevent this kind of social disorder.

      While I more or less agree with the gist of your post, I take issue with the above statement. I know it seems logical to look at defensive gun use as an arms race, where the ultimate result is a bigger and more destructive exchange. But criminals aren’t national governments. They’re more like wild animals (that’s not a racial statement – it applies equally to any color of criminal) in that they look around and then target the easiest pickings. If you present an obviously more difficult target the majority of criminals will quietly move on. So carrying a gun in a bad area is more like locking your front door when you leave the house It’s certainly still possible for someone to commit a crime against you, but they’ll have to work much harder at it, and therefore your likelihood of being targeted is statistically much lower.

      • Let me ask you an honest question:

        Would you work as a paramedic in South Africa if you were allowed to carry any gun you wanted to? Would you want your son or daughter to work under those circumstances if they were allowed to pack a gun? Would you want your family to live in one of these crime-ridden neighborhoods if they were allowed to own guns?

        In a society where social order is breaking down, where the police are so ineffective and/or corrupt that criminals simply don’t fear the consequences of crime, where if you were being assaulted, bystanders would just look the other way (if they don’t join in,) the mere fact that you can defend yourself once, twice, or three times doesn’t mean much. Take that many chances and sooner or later you’re going to get unlucky or the criminals are going to get lucky.

        Living in a society in collapse is like living in hell. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

        • But let’s turn this question around Martin: you’re born into a society in collapse. All your family and friends live in this same society. Realistically, your chances of leaving are nil, so you have to make a life in this society where everything is going to hell.

          Given that, wouldn’t you want to be able to defend yourself with the best available tools? Maybe you’ll only succeed in defending yourself once, twice, maybe three times if you’re lucky, but maybe that means a few more years with your family, a few more years of watching your kids grow up, maybe a few more happy memories before your life is extinguished. If you have to live in hell, isn’t all that even more precious?

        • People can and do get out of SA, which is exactly what I would do if faced with such a situation. Beyond that, merely having a gun might add a bit of length to your life but it would really be more like a case of choosing which part of hell you want to live in.

          What I disagreed with was what seemed like Nick’s assumption that, if only they had decent gun laws, their society wouldn’t be collapsing. I think he’s got it backwards – you have to have a functioning society – one where rights are respected and where wrongdoing is punished – before you can have liberalized gun laws because otherwise what you end up with is not order, but anarchy, and anarchy is not a good situation for anybody, armed or unarmed.

        • Some people get out, but it’s a minority and always will be. For the majority, they will have to deal with life as it is. I’m not saying that guns are a panacea, but they would help alleviate some of the symptoms. Anarchy isn’t good for anyone, but it’s better for the armed than the unarmed.

          If you’re making the larger point that the ultimate solution is to solve the deeper issues destroying South African society, then you’ll get no arguments from me. But there’s no contradiction between that and allowing them to have something that will make the immediate situation a little bit better.

        • Historically an armed populace is the reality from which every civilization or governing authority arises. Whether a population or sub-group is armed or not determines only who will be able to seize control. Either the most ambitious and able of the armed populace will achieve rule, or another group will move in. When Romans ruled Britain they completely disarmed the celtic population. When the Angles and Saxons saw opportunity they moved in very quickly, relatively easily, and they largely enslaved the conquered population. When it’s swords or guns against no swords or guns the swords with. The Libyan rebels had to scream that at the world before Qatar started shipping them some guns.

        • I think the Welsh would disagree. It took the Saxons at least over 200 years to nominally conquer Britain and the Welsh fought them all the way and inflicted very heavy casualties on the Saxons.

        • Living in a society in collapse is like living in hell. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

          I would.

    • “remove the repression and force, these societies fall to pieces because there is no general consensus, no sense of “society” between the very diverse groups vying for power.”

      In a nutshell, that pretty much sums it up.

  4. The honest reason why the 2nd Amendment exists, is it keeps the government honest.

    No, I do not mean in the sense that citizen militias can rise up and overthrow an illegal government.That is possible and a good deterrent but it is not the foundation of this post.

    The 2A keeps governments honest because it precludes a collusion between the government and wealthy criminals.Put simply, money talks and bullsh-t walks. In Chicago Magazine a very brave reporter posted an article detailing the connections between organized street gangs using their influence to hijack the city council system. I invite the reader to look up the article for themselves, as it details how Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, and other street hoods put aside their differences and held a conference to have city aldermen AUDITION for the gangs’ political support. Since gangs make money from drug sales and own entire public project buildings they have the money and muscle to call the shots. The unarmed citizens turned victims do not. When the gang banger kicks down the door and says ” vote candidate X or die” the citizen can either comply or wind up facedown on the street.

    Speaking of the police, they can’t do anything. Since the gangs are helping the politicians get elected, whenever the gangs are selling drugs or breaking the law they just ‘make a call’ and voila, the Chicago Police Patrolman who busted a gangmember is suddenly ‘reassigned’. One cop commented in the article that they simply stopped trying to police the community because every gang related arrest triggered a phone call from the Alderman….and the Alderman commanded the police.

    Thus gun control becomes a GREAT thing for politicians and scumbags alike- it eliminates the citizen from being a threat to the criminals when they’re out and about robbing, raping, and pillaging and transacting.

    Gun control also monopolizes any armed opposition to be 100% police-which cannot operate without political support from higher up or local support of the citizen. With political support paid for via the gang’s cash, votes, or a combination thereof the police can be eliminated as a threat to the criminal enterprise.

  5. Mexico, from sinembargo.com:

    “We live in a militarized country, sinking in the violence and barbarism of both the Narcos and the State. We live in an age of scoundrels, of a miserable and despotic ruling class; of shameless white collar criminals. We live amongst leaders with hands stained in blood; amongst mafias that plunder our natural resources; amongst parasites that embezzle the budget; amongst thieves that loot the national wealth; amongst slavers that pass for employers; amongst corruption that pillages the social well being. We live under a government that generates poverty, with 70 million poor that include 28 million living in food poverty. We live in an era of endemic impunity, with organized crime lodged in the highest spheres of power. We live at the end of the bloodiest ‘sexenio’ (six year presidential administration) in modern Mexican history. We live in Felipe Calderon’s last Christmas as tenant of ‘Los Pinos’ (Mexico’s version of the White House).”

  6. I suspect there is more involved in South Africa than just a lack of a 2nd Amendment-type right, though I think any citizen who can take responsibility for their own defense is better off.

    A populace has to have a lawful culture that is not tolerant of outlaws in or out of government. The citizens have to be willing to stand against lawlessness of outlaws and against the laziness, ineptitude and corruption of the government.

    Bad government and lawlessness is a symptom of a population that is not prepared to demand and pay the price for good government.

    • Salient points Mr. McNabb, and well stated. But a disarmed populace is ill placed to stand for or against anything. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just noting that it becomes much more difficult.

      JSG

  7. One of the mechanisms of widespread availability of weapons is a kind of “herd immunity”. If criminals think there’s a good chance that their victims might be armed, they’ll be more hesitant to attack than they’d otherwise might be. This is why home invasions are less common in areas with high gun availability.

    So South Africa’s crime problem wouldn’t go away completely or immediately if gun control went away, but it would get a little better, especially as word got around about potential rapists, robbers, and murderers who ended up shot. Yes, there would still be plenty of them who succeeded in carrying out their crimes, but less of them, and their increased risk would give some of them pause. It would be some measure of relief to a beleaguered population.

  8. Fiction often tells the tale even better than news stories. Check-out the novels of Roger Smith for a look at crime from the perspective of both the wealthy and poor. His books are usually set in Cape Town and are gritty and realistic with disturbing and realistic violence.

    Hint: never visit Cape Flats without riding in an armored column.

  9. Actually, I think SA will go the way that Rhodesia-Zimbabwe is going.
    I have actually talked to people from SA over the years both Black & White who immigrated to the USA. None wanted to be in SA.
    The Whites are more Corporate or Capitalist since they have some of the wealth.
    The Whites are comprised of English and Dutch of which the two groups do not like each other very much.
    The Blacks are more Socialist or even further to the Left as they are the have nots. A lot of people originally from India are in SA as well and can be educated.
    None of the groups are really very friendly to the other groups.
    I suppose the Blacks have the majority and the blue collar muscle, but the other groups have the education, skills, and the capital.
    The Latter groups may have some options, but the majority government may curtail their functions and operations for a populist agenda with the detriment to the nation as in Zimbabwe.

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