Our constitution puts a great emphasis on human life, dignity, equality and freedom. While every citizen has the right to own property, our right to life supersedes our property rights. Criminals who infringe upon our rights, to not have our property expropriated or taken without consent and fair compensation, also have the right to life.
Many law-abiding citizens might feel that this is unfair – law-abiding citizens do not rob and steal, why are criminals allowed to get away with it? Well, these criminals are not supposed to be getting away with it. When South Africa adopted the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1996, law enforcement services were given the mandate and mission to stop these criminals in question. Regrettably, SAPS has failed to stick to this mandate, even going on record stating that they cannot keep up with the demand of citizens. What I am trying to say is that criminals are still criminals, nobody has given them a free pass or a “get out of jail free card”, SAPS and the justice system have simply failed to serve justice where it is so overdue. However, even the worst of criminals still has the right to life. We as fellow human beings have no right to decide or dictate upon the life of another – it can be argued that the worst of the worst criminal may have been the decider of many other fates before finding himself at the mercy of a court, but we still cannot deliver this judgement, because we have this large emphasis on human life.
Now, it may seem like a terrible idea to allow convicted murderers to have this right after they have taken the lives of others, but the right to life is non-derogable, and we should actually be grateful for this. Some countries across the globe today do not share this same emphasis on life in their bill of rights, or constitution. This can become extremely dangerous when other citizens, or the state, are allowed to decide whether you live or die.
Many dictatorships have placed this power of judgement in the hands of the state, and many innocent people have lost their lives as a result of a corrupt state making criminals out of average law-abiding citizens. What exactly do I mean by “making criminals out of law-abiding citizens”? In some cases, not all, the state has not physically forced citizens to commit a crime which the state would deem punishable by death, however often the state puts such restrictions on basic human freedoms that citizens find themselves on the wrong side of the law, by practicing freedom of speech or freedom of movement. This all shouldn’t sound too far-fetched or non-relatable to many South Africans – we were too at the mercy of the state during the national shutdown, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Average South African citizens were considered criminals for walking on the beach. Many of us were trading contraband or “dealing” tobacco – pensioners felt like drug traffickers after smuggling a carton of the cheapest cigarettes home. Fortunately, with our constitution in place, the right to life is non-derogable, meaning that even during that bizarre state of emergency we all still had our right to human life, despite some of our other rights being limited or restricted. Can you imagine how dangerous it would have been to get your nails done at a “backyard nail technician” during the Level 6 lockdown restriction, and not having an inherent and non-derogable right to life?! If the state had the power to punish you by death for such a trivial “crime”, where do you think we would be as a country right now?
It has been quite some time since many of us have read about, thought about, or even heard about the Covid-19 pandemic, right? But it is a vital part of this article as it would be considered our most recent out-of-the-ordinary situations, or rather actual emergencies.
Now, after I have gone into some detail on the emphasis on life, let’s take a look at an example of a self defence shooting. Should you find yourself waking up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of somebody hotwiring your vehicle, or simply breaking into it, you would not be able to revoke the suspect’s right to life. Some of us might feel that the criminal stealing our car, or perhaps items therein, would directly affect our livelihoods and indirectly infringe on our right to dignity – this still does not warrant the use of lethal force. There is no direct and imminent threat to human life at that point. However, realizing that we live in South Africa, a country with a murder rate exceeding that of some warzones across the globe, many property-related crimes escalate to contact crimes such as assault and murder. We are still unsure of the exact reason behind our criminals’ escalating robberies to rape, assault and murder, but it is safe to say that their brutality should never be underestimated. With this in mind, one should always be cautious and try to avoid any direct conflict with these criminals – feel free to read through our blog post on our website focused on avoidance or click on this link https://www.gunlicence.co.za/avoidance-is-first-prize/ . So, what do we do if we cannot avoid contact with a burglar or carjacker? You still have the right to “defend” property without the use of lethal force, so using verbal warnings and commands to make the criminal aware of your presence would hopefully be enough to give them a scare and have them leave. Should this fail, be very careful of finding yourself close to this criminal as we all know criminals do not fight fair, and often there are multiple suspects to watch out for. If this criminal then becomes aware of your presence, does not follow your command or head your warning, and he/she advances towards you with a deadly weapon then lethal force would be justified, provided that the suspect has fulfilled the three requirements for the use of lethal force – their attack has now turned from property to life, the attack is imminent or it has begun, and the attack is definitely unlawful.
The three legal requirements which must be in place before you may use lethal force are topics that are covered in your proficiency course (the first step of the firearm licensing process in South Africa). Pay attention to this as it is incredibly important to follow laws set out by the Firearms Control Act, to ensure that you remain on the right side of the law. Take the example above into account, in which the attacked has now advanced towards you with a deadly weapon, the suspect has now infringed on your right to life. While the right to life is non-derogable, as mentioned, you still have your right to life, and you have the right to use any means necessary to protect innocent life as an absolute last resort. You have warned the criminal, the criminal has turned their attention from your car to you, with the intention of “getting you out of the way”, you would definitely be put in a situation where you have to exercise the use of your firearm as a last resort. There are always consequences for our actions, which is the point of this entire article, but there are also consequences for our inactions. If you do not use your last resort at that point, you may lose your life.
To round off this article I would like to wish all law-abiding citizens good health and safety. For those who have already licensed firearms for the purpose of self defence, as the absolute last resort, I hope you are able to avoid using this last resort for as long as possible. Stay safe and stay on the right side of the law!