"Guns in the house never made me feel safe"

Shamecca Davis hugs her son Isaiah Bow, who survived the Colorado shooting.


I was watching Batman at roughly the same time as those in Colorado were.  Except in my cinema, everyone got out safe.  So it was pretty shocking to hear the shooting on the news.  But what was more shocking was the after effects.  No I am not talking about the strange behaviour of the shooter.  But that gun sales in Colorado rose by 41%.

And now, another seven are dead after a shooting at another mass shooting in the United States – at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s been too soon to tell whether gun sales are affected by this shooting, but if Colorado is anything to go by, then we’re going to be seeing a huge increase in gun ownership across states in America.

It is a perfectly reasonable debate.  If someone had a gun and you did, you would feel safer.  If someone had a gun and you didn’t, you would feel less safe.  Right?  Only in theory.

I grew up in South Africa.  While it might not be at war, it isn’t the safest place in the world.  Every newspaper is packed with stories on crimes – the ones that happened within the last 24 hours.  One in every three woman is raped.  Even baby girls.  So it was only logical to own a gun for protection.  Everyone did.

A few weeks ago, 13 people died when James Holmes (pictured) allegedly opened fire in a cinema

I remember exactly where our family gun was.  In my parents’ bedroom, at the bottom right hand corner of my dad’s wardrobe, next to his shoes in a large safe.  My siblings and I were to never go near that space in the wardrobe.  If the safe was locked and you needed it in a hurry, it may take too long to open.  So I don’t think it was always locked, regardless of what my parents said.

Besides the gun, we had grill bars on all the windows.  We had an alarm that was set every night and every time we left the house.  And there were panic buttons to press when needed.  At night, there was a door and a grill gate that would be locked to separate the bedroom section of the house to the living area.

We had two dogs.  But they weren’t chosen for their pink bellies or cute smiles.  They were chosen because for their bark, their bite, and their protective instincts.  The roamed the property as our body guards.  And then we had huge walls, sometimes bigger than the trees on the other side, surrounding our home.  We only had little spikes on our wall tops while others had barbwire or electric fencing, or both.

I never felt less safe than when I lived there.  Every tree branch cracking and every dog bark sent shivers down my spine.  I remember at about 9 years old talking to my friend about her plan in case they were broken into.  She said that she would lie up against the brick wall that on one side bordered her single bed and her huge human size bear would sleep in the middle of the bed.  That way the armed robbers would mistake the bear for her.  I immediately got my mum to buy me a human size teddy.

People mourning after a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last week, where 7 people died.

I remember playing hide and seek, but it wasn’t a game.  It was a way of finding where the best hiding spot was.  The one that would give you the most time to stay hidden from anyone who might want to hurt you.

But the worst part was hearing the clank as the safe was opened.  I knew my dad would be reaching for the gun.  I could hear it even through the screeching noise of the alarm and the barking dogs.

My family was lucky.  We only a few break-ins and one occasion where an armed man jumped our neighbour’s wall and ran through our property to escape the cops.  None of my family was ever hurt.  But I can’t say the same for my friends and their families.

I now live in a home that would be so easy to break-in to.  Large glass windows, easily broken with one brick thrown.  A flimsy lock on the door and a gate I could look over if I stood on my tip toes.  While I might get scared when I hear the floorboards creaking in the middle of the night, I still know I am safe.  Even when the only weapon I have is my mobile phone that barely has reception to call the police.

In theory, a gun might make you feel safe.  Who would attack you if you had a gun?  But would having a gun really deter them if they had a gun too?  And what would you do with the gun?  Would you use it?  Would you fire it?

I once asked my dad why we only had tiny little spikes, when our neighbours had electric fencing.  Surely, we were more vulnerable.  My dad said the electric fencing was an advertisement that you had something someone else would want.  The more you spend on weapons, the more you become prey.

I know what gunfire sounds like – and not from the movies.  And I thank every day that I now live in a country where I don’t have to hear it, because there are so few guns to be used.

Avi Vince works as a manager in a non-profit organisation. She is starting her freelance writing career and you can follow her blog here or at twitter here.

Would having a gun in your home or in your car make you feel more safe?

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