Cape Argus reporter Chelsea Geach took to the shooting range, where she met Shahnaaz Slamang.
Cape Town - My whole body recoiled at the sight of the weapon.
It was at Astra .22 pistol, lying disarmed and impotent on a table at the False Bay shooting range.
But just the shape of it was enough to set my muscles trembling – the grip that must feel familiar in the hands of a hundred gangsters; the barrel which could be somebody’s last living sight; the trigger that could send consequences ricocheting through a community.
Instructor Alan Martheze double checked the safety before holding it out towards me. I had never touched a gun before. It was heavy in my hand, but well designed for every feature to be at my fingertips: a button to dump the magazine, the grip to slide the barrel back, the safety. The trigger.
With ear muffs hugging my head and protective eye gear beginning to mist up, I raised the firearm level with the target. Left eye closed, right eye levelling the bullseye with the front sight and the back sight.
If only I could stop shaking.
But the first bullet I fired landed close on target, as did the next 15.
I was still shaking, but out of muscle fatigue more than fear.
I had expected to feel violent and destructive, but instead I just felt competitive. Nothing about popping holes in a paper sheet can be compared to killing a person. It feels like sport – but carrying a gun for self-defence is very different, and that’s where my experience departs from the others at the range.
The False Bay Shooting Club is high on a hill with spectacular views across the bay towards Simon’s Town. Facing the other way, I found Shahnaaz Slamang’s stomping ground: the Olympic specification clay pigeon skeet, cut out against the mountainside in an old quarry.
Slamang wore a bright pink jacket with a stylish headscarf and sunglasses. She also wore a Glock on her right hip, a magazine on her left hip and a shotgun over her shoulder.
She started shooting a year and a half ago, when the feeling of being threatened while drawing wages at the bank grew unbearable.
“I’m beating the pants off some of these guys who have been shooting for years,” Slamang said.
She comes to the range with her husband and her two children in their twenties.
“I’m a mom, I’m a grandmother. It’s my relaxation,” she said. “It’s a family thing; it’s not just a manly thing.”
Slamang’s skill with a shotgun is mostly sport, but it comforts her to know she can hit a target if she needs to.
“I feel safe and confident, because I practise regularly. I can protect myself and my family when my husband is away.”
Slamang lives in Crawford, between two police stations.
“There’ve been break-ins in my street all week.”
If a robber gets into her house, Slamang knows what her plan is. She’ll lock herself in a room with her children, and as long as all the robber wants is possessions, that’s where she’ll stay. But if a criminal threatens the lives of her children or herself, shooting clay pigeons has taught her aim to be true.
That’s the greatest thing about guns for instructor Martheze, who is an enthusiast and carries a gun every day.
“The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a properly trained 60kg woman on equal footing with a 130kg mugger; a 75-year-old retired man on equal footing with a 19-year-old gangster, and a single guy on equal footing with a carload of drunks with hockey sticks.”
Martheze said legal firearm owners are often judged and persecuted by those who automatically equate guns with killing.
“Just because you own a gun doesn’t mean you’re a vigilante.”