Book of the Month

Oscar Pistorius, His Girlfriend, and His Gun

Amy Davidson, The New Yorker online, yesterday (excerpt is last 2 paragraphs)


We have heard a good deal from the N.R.A. in the last couple of months about how a gun defends a home. Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice-president and increasingly unhinged public face, has been out talking about how everyone needs a gun to be prepared for a coming time of financial crisis and natural disaster. South Africa and the United States are distinct countries with different gun cultures, but people are not so different. The array of objects within arm’s reach can turn a moment of rage to something worse in any country. A gun in the house makes it more likely that domestic violence will lead to murder. (The Times has a story this morning about how living with guns has also been connected to dying by suicide.) Oscar Pistorius’s gun did not keep Reeva Steenkamp safe. Living in a house with many guns did not keep Kasandra Perkins safe when Jovan Belcher, the father of her child, shot her and then himself.

There is much to admire in the confidence that made Pistorius believe that he could challenge world running federations, and make them let him run. There was a clarity there, and inspiration, and the right kind of pride. (This morning, someone reportedly took a Nike ad with the line “I am the bullet in the chamber” off of his Web site.) There will be plenty of talk, too, about what brings athletes to both the highest levels of sports and to a place of domestic tragedy—publicity, pressure, even the unsettling question of performance-enhancing drugs and their psychological effects. That discussion is worth having. But what matters even more is what can happen in any home, in any room, with a man and a woman and a gun.

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You know, this article is very well intentioned and it's not really wrong - nor is the guy rapping in the song I posted. Regulating guns would make this problem a lot less worse. However...

Guns don't go off by themselves. Just like a car doesn't move unless someone drives it, a gun is just a hunk of metal without a person behind it. I'm wondering if a lot of people are scared of what they'll find if they start to delve in to why more people are feeling like shooting each other or stabbing each other or running each other over with a car than they did fifteen years ago.

Oscar Pistorious felt the compulsion to shoot his spouse in the face with a gun and so have people almost every day in this world. There's something much deeper going on.

Well said.  The point which many here continue to make--which I'm not hearing you disagree with in the least--is that when the impulses that lead people to do these things are in play, fewer people are likely to die or be maimed if there is a different societal approach to the question of who can obtain what kinds of guns under what circumstances.  

Of course there is a chicken-and-egg dynamic here, in that it is the darker outlooks and impulses that can lead people to do these things that also are barriers to adopting and enforcing and complying with better thought-out gun availability policies and practices.  

The US is a violent society.  We are a restless, always churning kind of people.  And we have all of the creative tensions but also just tensions that come with our extraordinary diversity.  So we have enormous energy channeled into constructive pursuits, but also destructive ones.

I have myself been assaulted and, as you probably gather from the writing, thought of assaulting others in ways that would have been horrific if a gun had been involved. They are way too dangerous to ever have around trustfully.

But they are only as dangerous as the person using it.

There's something much deeper going on

Yes,  but it's not at all the same thing as your "drugs influence spree killings" or "people everywhere are going crazy" topic.

South Africa has a very severe crime and violence problem.  People have guns to protect against the crime. And then people end up shooting each other with them when no crime is involved. It's an old story, ask any cop.

The "much deeper" things going are particular to South Africa (and quite a few other African nations,) some things that many of the so-called "first world" nations have learned how to lessen. if not eradicate:

Will the Pistorius Case Change South Africa?
Posted by Charlayne Hunter-Gault, News Desk @,  Feb. 16, 2013

[....] In South Africa, many, if not most, women have experienced domestic abuse; many of them live with it on a routine basis, with very little recourse and no headlines about their fate. For example, the World Health Organization last year reported that some sixty thousand women and children in South Africa were victims of domestic violence on a monthly basis—the highest reported rate in the world.

Other studies in the past few years indicate that South Africa has one of the highest incidents of rape in the world [.....]

[.....] close to three dozen women who’ve been murdered in South Africa by men who first raped them to “correct” their lesbianism. The crimes (which I’ve written about in The New Yorker) occur in alarming numbers even though, in theory, South Africa has progressive laws on the books that include the legalization of gay marriage. A five-year-old Domestic Violence Act also appears to have had little effect on the horrendous domestic abuse and rape statistics and the culture of silence that exists throughout the country. [.....]

[....] The other issue coming to light in the Pistorius case is that of armed civilians. While South Africa’s murder rate and other crimes have finally begun falling for the past few years, including what is known in the country as “femicide”—murder of an intimate partner, the highest category of the murders in South Africa—the nineteen-year-old democracy remains one of most violent countries, with Johannesburg listed among the ten most dangerous cities in the world. The greatest victims of crime are black South Africans. Confidence in the police services, now militarized, is low.

Gun ownership—legal and otherwise—fell in South Africa following 2004 Firearms Control Regulations requiring a competency test, but it remains widespread. And while those who can afford it live in well-protected compounds, with security guards and hard-to-scale electrified fences, those compounds are not immune to armed home invasions. Friends who know the walled community in Pretoria where Pistorius lived, and Steenkamp died, tell me that it is hard to imagine a breach in the security there. During the days of Apartheid, high, electrified fences were the sole province of whites attempting to keep out “the black hordes.” Now, even blacks who can afford it maintain the same kinds of protection. [....]

South Africa's astronomical homicide rate ( currently 31.8 per 100,000 vs. United States @ 4.8 per 100,000 and UK @ 1.2 per 100,000 for comparison purposes ,) started falling concurrent with restrictions on gun ownership.

Crimes of passion have always been with us (we know the incidence of them is always worse when there is little rule of law to deter them; we learned that over thousands of years.) Guns and guns owned by civilians have not always been with us.

A cavaet: we do not know that Pistorius committed a crime of passion yet and we do not know whether he was a domestic partner abuser, either; his story that he mistook her for an intruder may be true.

If true, the claim that her skull was crushed with a cricket bat will makes his story harder to believe.


Thanks. If the prosecutor's case is correct, yes  I would certainly put this in Hunter-Gault's "femicide" category without any problem, to say the least (and geez-the brutality level that is suggested! O.J. comparisons, anyone?)

Come to think of it, his breakdown in court, that did remind me of what I was talking about in this paragraph from a comment on one of Orion's threads:

I myself would like to see more research into the male hormonal disease that causes wife beating, road rage, bar fights and war. There was a 60 Minutes episode eons ago that stuck in my mind and wouldn't let go. It was about a bunch of men in a trial of a new tranquilizer (don't know if it was an SSRI) and they were sitting with their spouses, holding their hands, both were crying and saying stuff like hallelujah, this drug saved my marriage, this drug saved my life, I ruined my whole life up until now being an angry violent hothead, I have been reborn like an average guy, I never knew life could be like this.... (And yes, do see Andrew Sullivan on the topic of testosterone surges.)

Those leaks are very much up in the air, and the related intrigue is interesting in itself:

Oscar Pistorius case: bloodied cricket bat is key evidence, paper claims
Newspapers report new details in death of Reeva Steenkamp, citing 'sources close to the investigation', although police deny leaking information

By David Smith in Johannesburg, The Guardian, 17 Feb. 2013

The mystery over South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius's role in the killing of the model Reeva Steenkamp has deepened amid a series of claims and counter-claims about what happened at his home in Pretoria last week.

South African newspapers reported a series of dramatic revelations about the case, in which Steenkamp was shot four times. Police denied leaking the details and Pistorius's agent refused to comment.

A police spokeswoman could not explain how the claims emerged but did not deny them. "We are not commenting on anything in the newspapers today as the case is still before the court," she said. "They are insinuating they got the information from the police. They did not."

Medupe Simasiku, of the national prosecuting authority, said the alleged leaks did not necessarily affect the court case as "the evidence [published] might be wrong".

The well-respected City Press newspaper reported that a cricket bat covered in blood was found at Pistorius's home and is the central piece of evidence against him [....]

And see:

Pistorius family disappointed by 'sensationalist' media reports
Father of South African athlete questions integrity of newspapers that have reported claims about evidence found at scene

By David Smith in Johannesburg,, 18 Feb. 2013  

The family of Oscar Pistorius have criticised the media for sensationalist coverage of the murder case against him.

Henke Pistorius, 59, the South African Olympic and Paralympic star's father, said he was "very disappointed" by weekend press reports that a blood-stained cricket bat was a vital piece of evidence in the killing of the athlete's girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

"I'm disappointed in the integrity of some of the newspapers," Henke told the Guardian [.....]

Hundreds of miles away in Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp's family are preparing for her funeral, also on Tuesday. A private ceremony at a local crematorium is planned, closed to the public and media.

"We're just taking things one day at a time," Steenkamp's brother Adam was quoted as saying by the Associated Press (AP). "But at the moment it's family coming together and the one person who would be the strongest, who held us all together, is unfortunately not here anymore and that's my sister."

Steenkamp's mother paid tribute to her daughter. June Steenkamp told the Times of South Africa: "Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?

"Just like that she is gone. In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here.

"All we have is this horrendous death to deal with … All we want are answers … answers as to why this had to happen, why our beautiful daughter had to die like this."

Pistorius's family deny he committed murder, though they have not addressed whether he shot her. South African media reports suggest that Pistorius claims he mistook her for an intruder in his home.

In an email to AP on Monday, Pistorius's longtime coach said he believed the killing was an accident. "I pray that we can all, in time, come through this challenging situation following the accident and I am looking forward to the day I can get my boy back on the track," Ampie Louw wrote [.....]

which makes me wonder about the "crushed skull " thing. It's hard to sync the Steenkamp family reaction here with that, I would think they would be reacting a little differently if they had just buried a body with a crushed skull, unless they are an exceptionally calm group.

It does sound out there, and only the rags are going with it, but Forbes adds another odd snippet:

Pistorius, meanwhile, is claiming he forgot Steenkamp was staying the night, and shot the model after mistaking her for an intruder.

Two Simple Words: "I ... forgot."


Yes,  but it's not at all the same thing as your "drugs influence spree killings" or "people everywhere are going crazy" topic.

I feel like I need to defend myself against that. Are you sure there was no drug influence?

Look - drugs, especially the class of stimulant drugs that are almost always involved in alot of violent crime, are just really, really dangerous. There are pretty solid reforms that could be put in really quickly to make sure that mind altering drugs, at least the sort I have been writing about in my presence here, are not as freely available as they are now. They certainly shouldn't be advertised on television with cartoon bouncy faces as if they're going for the Teletubbies demographic. I mean seriously.

Crimes of passion have always been with us (we know the incidence of them is always worse when there is little rule of law to deter them; we learned that over thousands of years.) Guns and guns owned by civilians have not always been with us.

Yeah.And athletes also weren't juiced up on steroids. You can tell that because today's athletes actually look physically different than they did just decades ago.

A cavaet: we do not know that Pistorius committed a crime of passion yet and we do not know whether he was a domestic partner abuser, either; his story that he mistook her for an intruder may be true.

Well, that is actually very possible. He is a famous influential man, correct? That probably leads to a good deal of paranoia and paranoia plus firearms equal this.

Even if he was paranoid due to crazed fans and was on high alert though, he pulled the trigger. A shotgun wouldn't have been as easy to fire like that. And he shot her in the head too, right? You don't do that by accident.

And he shot her in the head too, right? You don't do that by accident.

Where her body got hit certainly was "by accident," unless he has X-ray vision like Superman. Both sides apparently agree she was shot through a locked bathroom door. That was repeatedly reported all along, and Pistorius described that in his statement yesterday, and today asked repeatedly by Roux if he found anything at the scene inconsistent with the account presented by Pistorius in court on Tuesday, Botha confessed that he had not.

The prosecution is a pitiful mess but they have found evidence suggestive of Pistorius being a hothead in the past:

I suppose they will try to work around it--what else can they do?  But when the lead detective for the prosecution turns out to be facing seven charges of attempted murder himself, yes, that would seem to fall into "pitiful mess" territory.  cheeky

From the never-sensationalizing, just the facts ma'am "yahoo expert" Martin Rogers, earlier today, at:

Oscar Pistorius' murder case took a sensational twist Thursday when it was revealed that the chief investigator who analyzed the scene of Reeva Steenkamp's fatal shooting faces seven counts of attempted murder charges himself.

Hilton Botha, whose stumbling and at times incoherent evidence on day two of Pistorius' bail hearing gave the Blade Runner's case a serious boost, was allegedly one of three drunk police officers who opened fire on a mini-bus taxi full of passengers in 2011, according to South Africa's Eyewitness News.

According to Botha, the shooting took place as part of the investigation into the murder of Denise Stratford, a Girl Scout leader whose body was discovered stuffed into a drain in 2011. Botha and colleagues were tracking the suspect and as part of their inquiries fired at the mini-bus when it failed to pull over when requested.

Botha was arrested at the time due to the charges, which were subsequently dropped, before it emerged Thursday that they had been reinstated.

"There was a decision taken by the director of public prosecution's office to charge the members, each one of them, with seven counts of attempted murder," said police spokesman Neville Malila. "That was the number of people that were in the taxi."

And as the world turns...these are the days of our lives.  New lead investigator appointed by the prosecution...

Ya mean facing charges for attempted murder is a deal-breaker for being lead investigator in a murder case?

I was just thinking that this news is less devastating in their system than it would be in ours because he won't be tried by a jury but by a judge and two magistrates. Though it's still pretty pitiful and I can imagine the judge and magistrates struggling to find a line where they aren't just punishing law enforcement for incompetence and forgetting all about the victim. There are so many outrageous things besides the simple fact of assigning this guy--leaving a bullet behind, not getting the cell phone used....

Got hints of something similar to the OJ case, where in the initial investigation, responding cops are eager to believe the celebrity and don't take the crime scene seriously, they are influenced by their knowledge of the celeb, that "this is a decent person, not a criminal." Which is, ironically, how we often wish cops would approach citizens in general.

Not everyone surprised at Oscar Pistorius' fall from grace
By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, CNN Special Investigations Unit, March 7, 2013

[....] "Here, I think, you had a troubled athlete," said South African sports journalist Graeme Joffe. "Not so much this incredible role model for the rest of the world -- no question about that -- but deep down, this was a troubled athlete."

Joffe is one of the few South African journalists who has been critical of Pistorius. He said the PR machine behind the man they call Blade Runner has all but made him untouchable.

"So many incidents have happened and they've been well documented over the last five or six years with Oscar Pistorius," said Joffe, who worked at CNN in the 1990s. "These kinds of cases have disappeared."

The South African media has long adored Pistorius, some would say even protected him, by minimizing his problems. Yet, some of his friends and colleagues have cast doubt on the idyllic image of Pistorius portrayed by the press.

"It's like we were waiting for something like this to happen," said Marc Batchelor, a South African soccer player who socialized with Pistorius in South Africa's glamor and sports circles.

Batchelor described Pistorius as someone who "had a trip switch," quick to get angry and fight. Pistorius caused "a lot of problems," he said [....]

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