How Do We Solve the Crime Conundrum?

Cape Times (South Africa), September 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

How Do We Solve the Crime Conundrum?


SITTING in traffic yesterday, I heard a radio report about a cash-in-transit heist in Johannesburg that ended in a shoot-out between cops and robbers. It struck me that it had been a while since one of those had been reported.

Which got me thinking about crime trends in South Africa, and how the murder rate has been steadily declining, as has the general level of violent crime. Are our police getting better? Are the criminals more wary of being shot?

I'm not a criminologist or a statistician, but it seems obvious that there must be a direct correlation between the levels of violent crime and the number of guns in circulation. It was 21 years ago that the war in Mozambique finally ended, and 19 years ago that there was a ceasefire in Angola.

Immediately after the ends of both those wars, there was a massive trade in guns across the borders into South Africa, and for years afterward, AK-47s were the favoured weapon of hijackers, cash-in-transit heist gangs and armed robbers.

But that trade, and the trade in guns of war like Makarov 9mm pistols, has steadily dried up as fewer black market guns enter the country from our neighbours.

And in the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult for private citizens to get gun licences, with gun shops going out of business all over the show. A quick internet trawl through various firearm forums shows high levels of frustration among wannabe gun owners, some of whom have waited two or three years or longer to get temporary weapon licences.

Again, this means fewer guns in circulation, and fewer guns available to criminals, and, I would surmise, one of the reasons why so many cops are attacked for their firearms.

So with guns increasingly being removed from the crime equation, what are the other major drivers of crime? Alcohol and drugs.

There's not much we can do about alcohol, other than trying to regulate the proliferation of shebeens and smokkies - the Americans proved to us during Prohibition that if you outlaw alcohol, organised crime steps in and takes over the alcohol trade.

Alcohol plays a major role in interpersonal and domestic violence, but it will take someone with far greater wisdom and knowledge of sociology, psychology and criminology than me to come up with a solution on this one. …

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