School gun tragedy

24 October 2013
Author  

Words cannot express the deep sense of sorrow and even outrage most of us feel about the killing of a learner by a security guard at the Ella du Plessis School in Windhoek. The incident will no doubt open up a new round of angst and fretful debate about the role of guns in our society.

The first question on most people’s lips is why a security guard at a school with learners in their early and mid-teens should need to carry a gun in the first place.

The second question that will follow is why he needed to use deadly force against a teenager allegedly armed only with a brick.

Most civilised countries around the world now recognise that for a society to remain safe the fewer people carry guns the better.

The indiscriminate sale of guns to people who have no valid reason for needing a firearm only leads to escalating levels of gun violence.

However, one does not have to be a rabid pro-gun advocate to realise that situations might arise where a law enforcement officers or security guards need to carry a firearm.

Criminals unfortunately somehow obtain guns. Therefore, it would seem unreasonable to deny those charged with combating crime the means to defend themselves against armed criminals.

As a country, we however need to strictly regulate the sale and carrying of guns except where absolutely necessary.

While a gun in anyone hands always poses a potential danger, the universal truth remains that there is nothing more dangerous than a gun in the hands of a coward.

Whether a security guard at a school really needs to carry a gun remains a legitimate question for debate.

Not knowing what threats Ella du Plessis faces from criminal elements makes it difficult to answer this question definitively.

However, whatever the dangers the school faced, it seems clear that the school and the security company concerned should have issued strict instructions limiting the use of firearms to external threats.

The use of deadly force against the very school community the security guards were there to protect does not seem justified under any circumstances on can think of.

The real issue here, perhaps, is the poor quality of training this country provides for private individuals, police officers and security guards in the proper use of firearms.

Windhoek City Police officers regularly face accusations of trigger-happiness and they often shoot dead unarmed suspect for attempting to flee the scene of an alleged crime.

Since independence, the number of security companies in the country has proliferated at an astonishing rate.

Often, people with little or no expertise in the field start up security companies because they see it is a means of making a quick buck by exploiting the underpaid and overworked security guards.

More and more one sees unarmed, defenceless young women guarding valuable property alone at night.

It makes you wonder what the owners expect these young women to do if confronted by armed and dangerous criminals.

They have to guard expensive property in dangerous circumstances – particularly at night – without having received proper training.

Our soldiers, police officers and security guards need intensive training in what constitutes the appropriate use of lethal force.

Those responsible for their training need to teach them they can only use deadly force as a last resort, when someone poses a significant and imminent threat to their own lives, or the lives of others.

There are so many other options people can pursue before shooting to kill. The first option they have is to attempt to disarm the suspect without the use of a firearm.

If that fails, the law should require them to fire a warning shot, and then shoot to wound rather than kill and only shoot to kill as a last resort.

For a grown man to shoot a young boy armed only with a brick cannot constitute a legitimate use of deadly force.

This is why it always remains true, that there is nothing more dangerous than a gun in the hands of a coward.

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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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