BLADE RUNNER–Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp are seen at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012. (AP Photo/City Press, Lucky Nxumalo)
(GIN) – With all eyes on the tragedy of a woman’s life lost and an Olympic hero hauled into court on murder one, a poignant fact remains hidden in the drama: South Africa put strict gun control laws on the books in 2004 and cut gun crime by more than 20 percent.
Unlike in the U.S., owning a gun is conditional on a competency test and several other factors, including background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. Minimum waiting period frequently exceeds 2 years from date of application.
Approximately 6 million civilians own guns in South Africa – about 12% of the population – but estimates of sales on the black market could make the real number twice that.
The strict laws were unable, however, to prevent Oscar Pistorius, Olympic and Paralympic sprinter and double amputee, from amassing a deadly collection of guns and for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, as she hid in the bathroom.
Pistorius was a known gun enthusiast. In January, he applied for six separate firearm licenses, according to the online paper IOL, namely a Maverick shotgun, a Winchester shotgun, a Mossberg Shotgun, a Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver, a .38 Special revolver and a Vector .223 rifle.
The range of weaponry shocked defense analyst Helmoed Heitman. He said he could not understand what the need for these firearms would be. A Vector .223 rifle, for example, is so powerful that its bullet carries on for a thousand metres, he said, adding, “If you shoot a burglar and you miss, you can hit somebody else 300 meters away.”
South African gun lobbies, with such unlikely names as The Justice Alliance of South Africa, have been seeking to weaken the gun law. “The only effective way to protect yourself against intruders is by using a gun. Either directly, or indirectly by summoning armed response or the police,” said Wouter de Waal of Gun Owners of South Africa.
Meanwhile, Pistorius has been charged with premeditated murder and released on bail raising concerns that the White and wealthy Blade Runner is being treated more favorably than the 160,000 inmates incarcerated in Africa’s most overcrowded prison system.
Far from the courtroom drama that has gripped South Africa, the family of Pistorius’ slain girlfriend, Steenkamp, has struggled with its own private deluge of grief, frustration and bewilderment. The victim’s relatives also harbor misgivings about efforts by the Olympian’s family to reach out to them with condolences. Pistorius, meanwhile, spent Feb. 23, at his uncle’s home in an affluent suburb of Pretoria.