South Africa is the second worst country in the world for gun deaths

A recent shooting incident in the USA has once again highlighted a glaring gun control problem in the country – but closer to home, South Africa faces problems of its own.

A study conducted by American medical professionals using data from the World Health organisation and Cambridge University’s Small Arms Survey, found the top countries with the most guns per 100 people and total firearm-related deaths per 100,000.

The key focus of the study was on the USA, and its hotly contested debate surrounding gun control, using data from 2010-2012.

South Africa has the second highest rate of gun-related deaths in the world

A more alarming finding for South Africans is that the country was found to have the second highest rate of gun-related deaths in the world at 9.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

That statistic is made worse by the finding that South Africa only has the 16th highest number of guns per 100 people at 12.7.

Sitting at the top of both lists is the USA, with 88.8 guns per 100 people, and a prevalence of 10.2 fire-arm related deaths per 100,000 people.

In 2013, this figure climbed to 10.4 deaths per 100,000.

Countries with the highest gun-related deaths (2012)

# Country Gun deaths per 100,000 population Guns per 100 population
1 United States 10.20 88.8
2 South Africa 9.41 12.7
3 Switzerland 3.84 45.7
4 Finland 3.64 45.3
5 France 3.00 31.2
6 Austria 2.94 30.4
7 New Zealand 2.66 22.6
8 Canada 2.44 30.8
9 Belgium 2.43 17.2
10 Malta 2.16 11.9
11 Israel 1.86 7.3
12 Luxembourg 1.81 15.3
13 Norway 1.78 31.3
14 Portugal 1.77 8.5
15 Greece 1.50 22.5

South Africa was recently rated as the 8th most violent country in the world, with a violent murder rate of 31 per 100,000 people.

Read: South Africa is one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world

According to the Small Arms Survey, since 1994, homicide rates in South Africa have remained among the highest in the world despite a consistent decline.

The group found that there is a positive correlation between the partial implementation of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) of 2000 and a reduction in firearm homicides.

“(But) better implementation of the law could further reduce levels of firearm homicides,” it said.

According to the SAPS and the Institute for Security Studies, homicides decreased from 66.9 per 100,000 in 1994 to 30.9 in 2011–12.

However, rates above 30 per 100,000 are typically observed in countries at war or with serious ongoing crises.

SA murder rate
SA murder rate

In 2000, the SAPS stopped providing data on the percentage of homicides committed with firearms, but pre-2007 data, as well as information from other sources, have corroborated the information published in the study.

These other sources include data on fatal injuries from medico-legal laboratories and state forensic laboratories from The National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS).

One caveat to the data on gun ownership is the unreliability of countries’ capacity to keep record of illegal guns, but the researchers noted that their findings were “reasonably” on par with previous research.

Firearm deaths
SA Firearm deaths

Seeking the roots of South Africa’s high levels of gun-related violence, the Small Arms survey identified challenges in several sectors, namely:

  • Problems implementing the FCA in terms of legistlation and regulation;
  • Policing practices, where the SAPS have used excessive force and firearms;
  • Lack of transformation in policing since the fall of apartheid;
  • Government’s socio-economic policy, in which inequality drives violence;
  • Other persistent challenges such as high unemployment, poor education, poor infrastructure, low levels of public service and government corruption.

“It has been argued that armed violence and systemic poverty and inequality are linked and that countries that experience entrenched forms of armed violence risk getting trapped in cycles of under-development,” the researchers said.

“This review suggests that the chances of breaking out of the cycle of armed violence and under-development are improved when efforts are made on both fronts.”

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