n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Gun rights versus peoples' rights : a review of the struggle for stricter firearms controls in the USA - any implications for South Africa?

Special Edition 5
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Since at least the early 1990s the fight for stricter firearms controls - the so-called 'Great Gun Debate' - in all states of America has been a constant ebb-and-flow between pro-control activists (mainly concerned citizens/victim's family groups) and opponents, largely led by the National Rifle Association (NRA). In the USA, over the years particular incidents of gun violence (for example the school shootings at Columbine and more recently the attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina) have raised emotions on both sides. This has led to temporary stricter firearms control measures being imposed - only for them to be rescinded or watered down at a later stage. Underlying opponents' arguments to any, even watered-down, controls have been the constant refrain of the American constitutional principle of the inalienable 'right to bear arms', (with no restriction on the ownership/possession of multiple firearms) while pro-control adherents are increasingly invoking the universal principle of 'human security' inter alia 'the individual's right to safety and security' as an inalienable 'peoples right' that trumps the uncontrolled or unfettered ownership of a firearm. The American 'fight' has implications for firearms controls worldwide, since many nations, while developing their own legislation on the issue, often take their lead from developments in the USA. South Africa is no exception to this even though the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 goes far further than anything in place in the USA. The South African gun control debate was re-ignited with the recent public hearings in Parliament on the recommended revisions of this Act. This article examines the overall firearms controls or lack thereof in the USA and postulates whether there are implications (if any) for the proposed revisions of the South African Act.

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