In a nutshell
Gun free zones create spaces in which people feel safe from violence and help to shift people’s attitudes, challenging the idea that guns offer security, thereby helping to reduce demand for guns.
What we do
Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) is a national NGO, which aims to contribute to safety and security in South Africa by reducing gun violence. The gun free zone (GFZ) programme relies on community participation to create and maintain GFZs, with GFSA providing advice and access to materials.
Guns are the primary cause of non-natural death in young people 15 years and older. Young people are the main victims and perpetrators of gun violence, with a spike in gun violence at age 14. Gun ownership is a core part of ideas around masculine identity and power among young men in particular.
There is easy access to weapons in schools. The 2012 National School Violence Study (NSVS) conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) found almost a quarter of learners knew people who had brought weapons to school. Young people do not feel safe in school. School violence has a negative effect on education. It can promote truancy, as learners are afraid to go to school, and it makes it difficult for them to concentrate on their studies.
Schools are the perfect platform from which to launch the idea of GFZs because communities feel instinctively that schools should be places of non-violence. It is therefore relatively easy to get users and stakeholders to buy into the idea of a gun free school. A school is bigger than its grounds – there is a flow from schools to the wider community. Once the gun free message is established at a school, it is easier to roll out the concept to nearby facilities, such as spaza shops and shebeens.
Most schools have infrastructure to support a gun free programme. Schools are meant to keep an incident book to record incidents of violence. This makes it easier to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the GFZ. The Safe Schools Programme in the Western Cape includes strategies such as installing security systems and a call centre where learners can report violence or abuse.
How we do it
What is a Gun Free Zone?
A Gun Free Zone (GFZ) is a space in which no guns are welcome or allowed. It limits who can carry a gun where.
Types of Gun Free Zones
There are different types of GFZs; some are enforced through the use of metal detectors and providing safe storage, while others are enforced through community buy-in and trust.
Experience working with Gun Free Zones
Since 1994, Gun Free South Africa has worked with organisations and communities to help them make their spaces safe by not allowing guns. Gun Free South Africa’s experience, backed by research, shows that the success of declaring a space a GFZ depends on the buy-in and commitment of that space’s stakeholders to building a safe environment. It is not enough to just put up GFZ signs.
5 steps to Gun Free Zones
Over the years GFSA has developed a 5-step model to make spaces GFZs:
Step 1: Establish the vision
Step 2: Develop the policy
Step 3: Prepare for implementation
Step 4: Implement
Step 5: Maintain and monitor
Gun Free South Africa has helped implement GFZs and studied their effectiveness in schools in Fothane, Diepkloof and Khayelitsha.
Mmantutule High School in Fothane, Limpopo, is one of 33 GFZs in the Mapela district, most of which are schools. It was declared a GFZ in March 1997. A GFZ sign is displayed at the entrance to the administration centre and the school has one security guard as part of their overall school safety programme.
Namedi High School in Diepkloof Zone 3, Soweto, was declared a GFZ in 1999 by the school body, including the learners, and has two security guards. In the 1980s and 1990s gun violence involving students took place inside and outside the school premises.
Zola Secondary School in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, was declared a GFZ with the support of the Western Cape Government as part of their Safe Schools Project. The GFZ was introduced to fight crime that was rife in the township’s schools and is enforced by trust, rather than through searches or metal detectors.
Some schools developed a school safety pledge, promising to keep their classrooms gun free. At Mmantutule High School, the English teacher set a comprehension test on GFZs for Grade 10 students. Some students found that the signs provided by GFSA were not relevant to them. They preferred to use the slang expression ‘iguniflop’ or ‘guns suck’.
What we have achieved
The effectiveness of the GFZs in the three schools and their communities was monitored through interviews and focus groups.
The main impact was that people felt more secure. Learners reported feeling safer on the school premises than in public or other public buildings.People reported hearing fewer gunshots. There was a noticeable difference in the public carrying of guns. For instance, according to a learner at one of the schools, the number of learners who carry guns to school had decreased. This led to a climate of greater trust and an improved atmosphere.
This was not true for all schools. Learners at Namedi High School said they did not feel safer at school, mainly because they felt that the policy was not enforced stringently enough.
GFSA notes that, although gun free zones do not offer an absolute guarantee of safety, the perception of increased safety has a significant impact, because it improves social interactions.
GFSA worked with the South African Police Service in 2002 to develop, implement and maintain schools as Firearm Free Zones under Section 140 of the Firearms Control Act. 27 schools were chosen for the pilot project, called iGuniFlop. The CSIR carried out an independent evaluation of the pilot’s impact. Some of their key findings were:
70% of participants believed they were safer after their school became a Gun Free Zone. 23% felt it made no difference and 7% felt it made their school less secure.
The youth in the areas strongly supported the establishment of the Gun Free Zones, even in areas where crime rates and involvement in gangs were high.
What we have learned
All three schools were part of a community-wide project to introduce GFZs being championed by individuals or committees. GFSA volunteers and committee members played important roles as facilitators. They introduced the idea of a GFZ, facilitating the process through workshops and providing materials. At Namedi High School, the facilitator was able to use existing relationships with local organisations to get community leaders to support the idea.
The project was not implemented in a standardised manner, which gave communities the flexibility to engage within their own contexts and constraints. Taking the time to train key facilitators in the community, as happened in Fotane, meant that the project became independent of GFSA more effectively than at other sites where less training was given.
Not enough steps were taken to ensure all users were included in the launch of the schools as a GFZ. For instance, at Mmantutule High School in Fothane, Grade 11 students arrived at the school at the start of the year and found it already declared a GFZ. They had had no opportunity to comment on the process, and so felt they had no stake in it.
There were no mechanisms in place to continue informing people about the GFZ policy at all three schools. This is especially problematic in schools when there is a new student intake. For instance, at Namedi High School in Diepkloof, pupils who participated in the introduction of GFZ subsequently left the school. Pupils in Grade 11 and a male teacher who joined the school after the introduction of GFZ all said that the school’s gun-free status had not been discussed with them at all.
Several factors such as lack of resources (both financial and human), inadequate training, poor working relationships with volunteers and insufficient materials made it difficult to implement the project in a standardised manner across all three sites.
The schools did not have the resources to enforce their GFZ policies through formal mechanisms. They could not afford security guards or electronic search systems. Where schools did not have a perimeter fence and had a number of entrances, learners felt that the GFZ was not effective because it could not be enforced properly.
Having a school and other buildings in the community gun free did not increase learner’s safety outside the zones. The zones were described by GFSA as ‘islands of safety in an ocean of guns’. It is therefore important to try to carry the gun-free message outside the GFZs, especially for the youth, so that they do not see carrying guns as a problem specific to schools but as a wider social problem.