JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Tighter gun ownership laws are pushing South Africans to buy crossbows, spears, swords, knives and pepper sprays to protect
themselves from violent crime.
"We've had to build an entirely new shop because the demand from people is so great," Justin Willmers, owner of Durban Guns and Ammo, told Reuters.
"It can be anything from a Zulu fighting spear, battle axes, swords, crossbows."
New gun controls came into force last year under South Africa's Firearms Control Act, but some weapons shop owners say high crime rates are pushing
law abiding citizens to look for alternative means of defending themselves.
Despite official figures showing the murder rate falling 10 percent in the year to March 2004, South Africa's Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association
says individuals face a one in 60 chance of being the victim of a violent crime in any given year.
Many houses are surrounded by razor wire and electric fences, but with police turning down 80 percent of firearms license requests after an 18-month
application process, Association spokesman Alex Holmes said people were forced to look at other options.
"It's not really a matter of choice," Holmes said. "Licensed firearms are not used in crime at any great rate."
Estimates of the number of illegal firearms in South Africa vary between 1 and 4 million, he said, but the real problem is from some 30-40,000
hardcore criminals using a small number of illegal guns.
South Africa began a firearms amnesty on Jan. 1 that to date has netted some 13,000 weapons, officials told Reuters, but critics say most of the
weapons handed in are old and would never have been used for crime.
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