CHARMAIN NAIDOO: The gruesome games of children with guns

Alarmingly realistic toy guns. Picture: REUTERS
Alarmingly realistic toy guns. Picture: REUTERS
Did you know that South Africa has the second highest rate of gun-related deaths in the world?

An astonishing nine and a half (go figure) deaths are reported per 100,000 people, a figure beaten only by the United States where there are ten (and a half) deaths for every 100,000 people.

Guns have been much on my mind this past week.

It’s a long story.

A few months ago my MacBook Air, bought – I think – around 2010 began to hiss and spit every time I logged into my Gmail account.

An angry message appeared at the top of my screen: This version of Chrome is no longer supported. Please upgrade to a supported browser.

So, I went to the website and downloaded what was supposed to be a supporting browser, five times in total apparently, though I have no memory of it.

Still the message telling me my email was no longer supported by Chrome appeared.

Then my lower back went out; excruciating pain as my sacroiliac joint (the one you use to turn in bed, for those of you who have never had need of knowing that) went into spasm.

Medical intuitive Louise Hay says that lower back pain reflects a fear of money or lack of financial support.

Of course it does. The ridiculously persistent message at the top of my screen telling me my Gmail account was no longer supported meant (or so I thought at the time, what do I know?) that I might need a new computer. Financial worry.  Then I hit a pothole covered with water – so I couldn’t see it – and burst and had to replace a tyre. Financial insecurity. And a huge grudge payment; I would rather buy shoes than a tyre.

Finally, the camel’s-back straw, my brake discs went. Replacing those, and a major service, cost almost as much as a pair of fine Italian leather boots. Financial fear on steroids.

They say bad things come in threes so I should have had my Oh-oh moment when the computer spluttered its displeasure.

Since my computer is the tool of my trade, I did what any Luddite would do: I went to my cleverest friend, who discovered that my operating system from the 2010s – an antique in computer years – was an extinct wild cat; a snow leopard or a lion or a mountain lion, it was hard to tell.

I had to be upgraded to a new system called El Capitan – Spanish for The Chief, and not to be confused with that magnificent vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park in California.

So here is where the story really should begin. As I waited at my friend’s front door, I looked out of the corridor window onto the park behind her apartment building.

And got the shock of my life. Three little boys – no older than 10, but more likely closer to seven or eight years old – were playing on the swings and roundabouts. With a gun. A black handgun that was big enough to be seen clearly by me from a distance.

It looked so real from where I was that I reached for my phone to call someone and scream danger … only, who to call?

The boy with the gun held it against his friend’s head. The friend, in supplication, put his hands up. The boy with the gun fired it anyway then lifted the gun into the air, blew off imaginary smoke (like, no doubt, he’d seen done in the movies a hundred times) and laughed out loud, throwing back his head.

It was a gruesome game. It chilled my spine.

My clever friend, the mother of a teenage boy, shrugged as she began the installation of El Capitan.

Boys and guns, she said, made a happy combination.

Even if you were strict about not buying them guns or anything that resembled a violent toy (bows and arrows or catties or things meant to hurt living things) boys turned sticks or bits of planks into imaginary weapons.

My naivety was touching, my friend laughed, but hopelessly idealistic.

Children and guns. What a horrible combination. No, not a happy one.

I go back to my first point: South Africa has the second highest rate of gun-related deaths in the world.

Beaten, of course, by the United States, which has such a high gun ownership number that it is hardly surprising that statistics show that between 1999 (when the Columbine school shooting took 15 young lives) and 2016, there have been over 200 school shootings in the US. And that’s mass shootings, not the random one-off killings.

And, I say, it all begins with playing with guns on a sunny, early-winter Sunday morning with your friends in a park.

Of course all of this ends, inevitably, with someone like the new Police Minister Fikile Mbalula calling for a shoot-to-kill policy.

Here are his comments this week.

“This society is highly armed; there are people who have guns who are not supposed to have guns.

“Police must be ruthless against those who are armed and want to undermine the law of this country.

“If they shoot you, shoot back and shoot to kill and don’t allow yourself to be killed.”

It’s an echo of comments made by the then newly appointed police chief Bheki Cele in August 2009, who wanted the law to be changed to allow police to “shoot to kill criminals without worrying about what happens after that”.

I say no guns, no need to shoot to kill.

Well, maybe little boys are naturally bloodthirsty and will turn bits of plank and cricket bats and hockey sticks into guns and other weapons no matter what.

Maybe the childless me has never come face to face with actual evidence of this.

Still, I was as shocked as could be by what I saw in a park this week. Naive or idealistic or plain silly? Possibly.

Appalled? Definitely.

Charmain Naidoo – Rand Daily Mail


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