‘No one was shot. But they could have been – so easily’

14 Feb 2013 @ 9.41 pm
| Opinion

Former York journalist Pete Richardson, now living in South Africa, reveals how a domestic incident and the Oscar Pistorius case has led him to rethink his attitude to guns

As I pen this piece I really did begin to think about guns properly for the first time. I’ve sort of been aware about guns before. I’ve even fired guns before.

I’ve taken lives with guns before… but I’ve only really now begun to think about guns.

As a Halifax boy I never really dealt in guns. I was definitely not a gun dealer… and I never came across guns. I fired an air rifle a few times at empty cans. I think I might have even aimed at a few innocent sparrows but missed.

But the closest I ever came to real firearms was watching The Longest Day or Guns Of Navarone or myriad other great war films.

My first real encounter with a real gun was when a friend asked me to join him on the local pheasant shoot when I lived in sunny Sussex. I had inadvertently bought a gun dog – a working cocker spaniel – in a pub, and my friend had bought his brother. So it seemed only natural we would train the pups and take them shooting.

He owned a shotgun so I went with him and on one of the drives he let me have a go. I was petrified.

I held in my hands a device designed purely to kill. I knew it would kill someone if I lifted it and pointed it in the wrong direction and got all nervous and pulled the trigger.

Two or three pheasants ultimately bought it as I joined a few more shoots… but the power of the gun always made me feel uneasy. I was amazed at the confidence and skill of some of the shooters. I was even more impressed at the skill of the dogs.

But it was a leisure activity (unless you were a pheasant!). It was gun fun.

Oscar Pistorius at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photograph: Wikipedia
Oscar Pistorius at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photograph: Wikipedia

Now I live in South Africa. I have lived in Joburg and now reside in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains in Limpopo. There is still gun fun… but the poor victims of the hunt are a little larger.

There is also a real gun culture.

Last night we were staying with a friend. Her husband was away. My partner Lisa woke in the middle of the night and needed the loo. Afterwards she decided to have a cigarette so opened the front door and sat smoking on the step.

Our friend lives in the most glorious house in the most glorious wildlife estate on the edge of the world-famous Kruger Park. It’s about as far removed from the image of unsafe South Africa as you could get.

But our friend had heard a noise in the night.

She got out her flashlight and heard another strange noise. So she got out her gun and approached the door. She saw the front door open but couldn’t see anyone.

So she withdrew… breathing deeply and terrified.

She began to call the security firm that partols the estate. But her mother in the granny flat had also been woken up. She could see the front step and called out while waving her torch… “It’s Lisa. It’s Lisa.”

So no one was shot. But they could have been – so easily.

We laughed at breakfast until we watched the news and saw what had happened in the Oscar Pistorius house!

As we travelled back home the following day we learned our friend’s neighbours had been burgled.

I am now thinking about guns again. And my friend’s chilling words over breakfast: “If they’re in my house I’ll fu**ing shoot. I would have shot. It’s my house and I’ve got kids.”

All my friends have guns.

Most here in the bush say it’s for snakes but I’m not so sure.

  • Pete Richardson is a Yorkshireman, a former UK archaeologist (BA Hons York) and ex-Yorkshire Evening Press journalist who fell in love with South Africa
  • You can read his previous blogs here