The School of Social Science, in collaboration with the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre hosted a Public lecture on Wednesday 20 September 2015. The purpose of the lecture was to mobilise engagement and create a sense of awareness onThe impact of gun laws on gun violence in society, which was the topic for the evening. The speaker who presented on this topic was the esteemed Tomas Baum, the Director and Research Coordinator of the Flemish Peace Institute.

Having studied philosophy, applied ethics and international politics, Tomas engages with common characterisations of peace that comprise democratic, cultural, institutional and cosmopolitan elements. Furthermore, he translates the institute’s work to various levels of policymaking and media.

The evening kicked-off with Tomas fervently delving into the linkages between gun ownership, firearms legislation and violent deaths in the context of European countries; on the basis of the multiple research studies he has conducted with self-acclaimed gun owners in relation to arms possession and the consequences of its violent use.

Some key findings point out that firearms legislation on gun suicides or homicides certainly has an impact on the rate at which people are losing their lives at the hand of a gun. The stricter the law, the more regulated the gun deaths become. In addition, the findings indicate that there are various alternatives to acquiring a gun if the legal system appears to elongate the process in any way. Tomas’ research also shows that there is a distinct correlation between gun ownership rates in a country and the rate of firearms-related deaths.

Tomas asserts that the challenge pertaining to this research is that there is a lack of concrete statistical data available, for instance, on official police records that clearly outline the number of firearms owned by citizens, whether illegal or legal. As a result of this, in-depth and transformational research is seemingly limited.

MSA’s senior lecturer for International Studies from the School of Social Science, Dr. Victoria Graham had this to say about the evening: “Tomas Baum’s lecture on gun violence came at a particularly important time with the release of the 2015 crime statistics in South Africa as well as the latest mass shooting in the USA (in Oregon). I found Mr Baum’s lecture to be informative and interesting and although it focused specifically on gun violence in Europe, there were many aspects that resonated with the South African situation – as was obvious in the discussion generated amongst the audience at the end of the talk.”

From a South African perspective, it remains true that prohibiting the access to guns through legislative measures can greatly assist in the efforts to lessen violent deaths and gun-related deaths in society. However, considering the crime-rate climate in South Africa, legislation in itself cannot be the only solution. Therefore, it is evident that research needs to play a role in informing a contextualised and constructive way forward for a particular country.