Bite the bullet; talk about guns

My 7-going-on-17 year old son, who clearly seems to be following in my footsteps when it comes to asking questions, recently put me on the spot.
He is familiar with the work I do, as a journalist, lecturer and blogger, and watches me typing feverishly on my laptop daily. A few days ago, he peered over the screen and asked, “Are you writing about the bad things?” I replied that this time I was not, but yes, I sometimes do write about things that are bad. Immediately he says, “Like the boy who was playing with a gun and shot his sister by mistake and then shot himself.” He pauses, and asks, “Did you write about that?”
I did not. And so I’m doing so now. I recall that we listened to the details of the incident in the car on the way to school last week, and we discussed how guns should always stay in a safe and away from children. Fortunately, it was a discussion he had again with one of his teachers at school. And he told me all about it on the way back home.
Now that I am writing about it, I realise a few very important things.
Firstly, despite his fascination for guns growing up, he knows it’s dangerous. That’s a good thing. And before you judge me as a parent, let me confess, I have never bought him guns. As a child, he would ask everyone else to buy him toy guns, and of course, there were those lucky packet ones too. So, there were many games of cops and robbers, mixed up with hide and seek. I didn’t pay much attention. I actually looked the other way and held my breath. Now, I can breathe a lot easier. Oh, and his fascination for guns was also fuelled by his desire to become a policeman, like one of our close friends. I will never forget the first time my son saw him in his uniform and with a gun. I think this little boy found his role model right there. For many years, he said he wanted to become a policeman so in his words, he “can stop people from doing the wrong things.” For his career day last year, he also dressed up as a policeman. This year, I think he is changing his mind about his career. He is in the “I’m still deciding phase”. But, I digress.
Another important lesson I learnt is we should never under-estimate the value of listening to news and current affairs. If we persist, children are bound to pick up our habits and learn from them. I’m a news junkie, and for many weeks my son would ask me to play music or change the station. I did not. The best way to start my day is with the latest news. That will never change. And now, there are no complaints from my son either. While he is playing with his tablet in the back seat, the radio is switched on with the news. Sometimes, as was the case in the gun incident, he listens to the news too and absorbs it. He also enjoys joining as a passive participant in the general knowledge quizzes and games on different radio stations. Even if all he is doing is guessing or choosing between A and B, I indulge him. It’s learning in progress.
Thirdly, I learnt that sometimes we try to shield our children too much from the real world. Instead, we should be having age-appropriate discussions with them. I didn’t think my son would understand the gun incident, let alone remember the details. That bubble has certainly burst now. Sometimes, we need to hear things and realise that the time is here. Maybe, you need to start talking to your child about dangerous weapons, their personal space, privacy, inappropriate touching and yes, the birds and bees. Let’s face it. Children are exposed to everything at an earlier age. So, as parents, we need to be prepared. We have to up our game lest we be caught off-guard.
At some level, that’s probably what happened to the father of the two children aged 2 and 11. All we can do for now is assume, in the hope that it will help prevent another such incident from occurring. So this is based on a series of hypotheses. Like many South Africans, who live in fear of crime, he probably bought a gun to safeguard his family if they were ever under threat.  It perhaps didn’t cross his mind that the gun could prove to be deadly for his own family. Perhaps he should have spoken to his children about the gun, and explained that it was not a toy to be played with. Maybe he did. Sadly, things went horribly wrong. He has now lost his two children. I can only imagine his horror and pain.
Yes, there are laws governing the control, usage and storage of guns. But these can, and will be broken. It’s led to the proliferation of illegal guns across the country. Many of these guns are used to commit heinous crimes, and shockingly, petty crimes too.
Awareness and advocacy about more responsible firearm use is largely driven by Gun Free South Africa. It’s not their task alone. It’s ours too. Let us not be naive. Guns have to be spoken about. It doesn’t matter if you don’t own one or have one on your property. There have been several incidents of children playing with guns with their friends at their homes, and then a bullet strikes.
These are conversations we need to start having within our communities, in our homes, with our partners, with our daughters and sons.
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