JOHANNESBURG – The family of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian charged with murdering his girlfriend, is feuding publicly over whether guns are a necessary protection against crime in South Africa.
British newspapers quoted Pistorius' father, Henke Pistorius, as saying the family owns handguns for self-defense and suggesting that South Africa's government shares blame for "white crime levels" in the country where police register more than 15,000 murders per year.
In a statement Tuesday quoting the runner's uncle, Arnold Pistorius, the family subsequently distanced itself from the father's comments.
The statement said the family "is deeply concerned about the comments" and that they don't "represent the views of Oscar or the rest of the Pistorius family."
The track star shot Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14 with his 9 mm pistol.
Prosecutors charged Pistorius with premeditated murder, saying the shooting followed an argument between the two.
Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for a home intruder, fired shots at the door of his toilet and then discovered that she was inside.
His uncle, who has acted as the family spokesman following Steenkamp's killing, said in the statement that "the Pistorius family own weapons purely for sport and hunting purposes."
That contradicts Oscar Pistorius' testimony to the magistrate who freed him on bail.
In an affidavit, the athlete known as "Blade Runner" for his carbon-fiber prosthetic running legs said he owned the 9 mm handgun and slept with it under his bed because "I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before."
The South African Police Service's National Firearms Center said Pistorius registered the 9 mm for self-defense. Police issued him with his gun license on Sept. 10, 2010.
According to the Daily Telegraph of London, Henke Pistorius said some of the family's guns "are for hunting and some are for protection, the hand guns. It speaks to the ANC government, look at white crime levels, why protection is so poor in this country, it's an aspect of our society."
"You can't rely on the police, not because they are inefficient always but because crime is so rife," the newspaper quoted the father as saying. "I have been in positions where I can use a gun but we have been brought up in a way that we value the lives of others very highly."
The family's response to those comments was issued by Vuma, a reputation management firm it has hired to deal with media questions following Steenkamp's killing.
"Oscar Pistorius's family is deeply concerned about the comments made by Oscar's father, Henke Pistorius, to UK newspaper the Telegraph about the family using its weapons to defend themselves against crime in South Africa, and especially about his comments that the ANC government is not willing to protect white South Africans," the statement said.
"Henke's interview with the newspaper was unapproved by our media liaison team," it added.
Media reports have said Oscar Pistorius and his father had become estranged before Steenkamp's death. But the father was seen comforting the sprinter when he sobbed during his bail hearing.