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South African police destroy thousands of illegal firearms
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South African police destroy thousands of illegal firearms

Police officers show off bags of confiscated weapons prior to being smelted at a metal processing plant in Vereeniging, South Africa, Thursday, July 9, 2015, as the world marked International Firearms Destruction Day. Over 14,000 guns were destroyed in the exercise. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

VEREENIGING, South Africa (AP) — In a spray of burning embers, South African police destroyed more than 14,000 firearms in the furnace of a steel manufacturing plant outside Johannesburg on Thursday to mark International Gun Destruction Day.

More than 11,500 of the firearms melted down were illegal, most of them handguns, South Africa’s National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are way, way too many illegal firearms out there,” she said. “There isn’t a day that goes by without an illegal firearm being used to commit a crime.”

An average of 18 people is killed by a firearm each day, according to the lobby group Gun Free South Africa.

One of the most prominent deaths was the murder of the national soccer team captain Senzo Meyiwa, shot last year in an apparent robbery.

South Africa introduced stricter gun laws in 2000, increasing the age limit to 21 years, enforcing license renewals and limiting the number of firearms each person can own, said Adele Kirsten, spokeswoman for Gun Free South Africa. Since 2001, the number of people killed by guns has halved and she said an apartheid-era culture of civilians carrying arms has changed. A reminder of apartheid was seen on the jacket of Charleston mass shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, who wore a badge of South Africa’s apartheid-era flag in an online photograph.

Firearms lobbyist Martin Hood has a different view, saying his clients in the security industry have seen an increase in the acquisition of firearms because of South Africa’s high crime rate and police ineffectiveness.

“Its people who commit crime, not guns,” said Hood.

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This story has been corrected to say the firearms were destroyed Thursday, not Tuesday.

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