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Publication Details

Reference
Kirsten, Adéle  (2004) The Role of Social Movements in Gun Control: An international comparison between South Africa, Brazil and Australia. Centre for Civil Society Research Report 21: 1-36.

Summary
This paper argues that social mobilisation against gun violence in Australia, Brazil and South Africa has been shaped by strategic responses to the political, social and economic conditions specific to each country. These strategies have contributed to the success of each campaigns, bringing about significant changes in firearms legislation and resulting in the issue of gun control remaining high on the political agenda. The paper also argues that the concept of social movement used in the South African literature on social movements fails to capture the complexity of the dynamic relationship between movements and the state and the interplay between social mobilisation and policy change. The paper identifies the ‘catalyst events’ that led to social mobilisation in the three countries. It locates this within a context of a history of violence and years of groundwork undertaken prior to the mobilisation and campaigning in all three case studies. It goes on to look at the strategies and tactics adopted by the three campaigns, identifying similarities and differences, which include grassroots mobilisation, the role of the media and relations to the state.

This paper is based on a review of the relevant literature, 62 face-to-face interviews and eight focus groups with activists, favela residents, and members of civil society organisations, government officials, journalists and members of Parliament in the three countries. Thirty four interviews were done in South Africa, 20 in Brazil and eight in Australia of which three were by email. Two of the South African focus groups were with the Gun Control Alliance and the other three with community activists in Mapela, the Vaal and Elsies River.2 In Brazil, two focus groups were conducted with Viva Rio staff and one with the residents of the favela Rocinha.

Participant observation was also an important aspect of this study as the writer is the former Director of Gun Free South Africa, one of the case studies under review. The writer was therefore a central participant in the development of the strategies adopted by GFSA in its fight for stricter gun control in South Africa. The writer is also a colleague of the leadership in both the Brazilian and Australian gun control movements, namely Viva Rio and the Coalition for Gun Control and knowledge of these case studies is also drawn from interactions with these colleagues through the international small arms control network.

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