I spent Monday morning sitting outside our local council tribunal in Odemira waiting for a civil case to be heard.

I came face to face with one of the few things in this life that makes me physically and mentally uncomfortable.  Unusually for a tribunal on the civil circuit as opposed to the criminal circuit — the local GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana, the Polícia de Portugal) were “tooled up” — yep I was in the same room as a gun — in fact not just one gun — but four.

I am not a stranger to guns. I first handled a rifle — make and model long forgotten now — in my teens when I did rifle shooting as one of my “interests” for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. I was the only girl on the course and one that drew some amusement from Prince Philip when I met him at the awards ceremony. With hindsight, I suspect he always had a “thing” for women who could handle a weapon.

I can appreciate the aesthetics of a beautifully preserved weapon and the geek in me appreciates some of the sleek high end technology of modern weaponry.

We currently own and use two air pistols to control vermin. They are both kept in a locked box

I have lived in rural/farming areas for all but one year of my life. I am used to hunting of all kinds; I am used to farmers keeping guns, both for hunting game for food and to kill pests and vermin. Protection of livestock is vital especially in poorer rural areas both in the UK and Portugal where almost every smallholder/farmer has one.

I know certain police units in the UK carry guns — most local forces have a gun squad at their disposal — often more in highly populated areas.

I have also encountered armed police and border guards on my travels. Greece has to take the award for being the most frightening place I have arrived in, being greeted by heavily armed men and women with submachine guns at Rhodes airport thirty years ago did not oose hospitality.

I fully understand the whys and wherefores of the necessity for our “protectors” to bear arms.  I can understand the right to bear arms — but this post is not about the current debate in the USA about that right — it is about why I am so uncomfortable sharing my space with people carrying guns.

I am told that I should feel safer that the police are armed; I am told they can protect me better because they are armed and that society is a safer place for me and my children and grandchildren because they are armed.

But no — I see a gun and I look for the exit.

I suspect this is because I feel that IF a person wishes to attack an armed policeman they are going to do it with a gun — the chances of there being collateral damage are far higher when guns are employed — they ricochet off marble walls and floors, off bullet proof glass and metal — which of course is why institutions use these materials to protect their staff.

I am not sure if it is the visual of the gun, or the damage I know it can do or the short time in which it can do the damage that makes me so uncomfortable — or a mixture of all three.

I do not have the same issues with knives which can be equally deadly.

I want to ask those of you that live in the USA and who are surrounded by guns — both seen and unseen — do you ever get used to it?


  1. I love this hard-hitting article, Nicola! I appreciate your willingness to share you concerns in our public forum.

    I do think people who own guns in America are angry and scared —


    — and I don’t think that will get better any time soon.

    We live near a couple of transportation hubs and there are always armed police out and about and that doesn’t concern me too much.

    However, when I go down to the Wall Street area in NYC, near the NY Stock Exchange — I begin to get chills and tremble and wonder what happened to our City. There are heavily armed police in that financial district and they have big, mean, machine guns and they wear total body armor and kevlar helmet. There are parked armored vehicles ready to run you over. The police TRY to make eye contact with you so they can stare you down and point their machine gun at you. It feels like a prison encampment down there and it’s clear they only want bankers walking the streets — the common folk will be intimated and shut down.

    Too bad we didn’t have that sort of heavily armed patrol, with armored cars and such, near Sandy Hook Elementary.

    1. I am glad I am not alone in getting the “chills”

      I do find it strange that as a society we seem to protect the artificial treasures – ir gold, diamonds, bonds etc rather more then the real treasures that are our children.

      I have no doubt that Sandy Hook would have had a different outcome if there had been armed response units nearby …..

      I am now just wondering if I would prefer guns or cameras in schools – will think on that one.

      1. What’s curiously odd though — is the whole NYSE armor machine gun brigade is “all badge and no show” — meaning that, yes, it is a show, but not a real show.

        There’s no money at the NYSE — they’re protecting computer transactions — we don’t have paper or ticker tape any longer! Sure, when 9/11 hit, trading was disrupted, but that was quickly solved by replicating everything in NJ.


        Redundancy is everything, you know, even in showing off your guns and tanks! SMILE!

        So the police stand there an glare at you for no reason at all. They’re putting on a TSA-style show on Wall Street.

  2. Nicola,

    I was walking to get the mail for my office and I saw three New York City police officers wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles. It was upsetting on multiple levels. I am used to the idea that many people around me might be carrying a weapon tucked into their clothing — because I have seen so many maps of gun owners that it just seems something you have to accept or constantly panic that they are all around you.

    1. I was not quite at the panic stage – but definitely at the uncomfortable stage.

      I am not sure what I think of the gun maps either. The USA appears to be more violent than either the UK or Portugal . I am guessing it is one of the prices to be paid for the American dream.

  3. Hmmm. Get used to it? I have never spent much time around guns, have probably only seen a gun up close on a handful of occasions, but I have always had this “fear” of guns. I’m with you on all your above comments, I see the need for guns for farmers and hunters and policemen, and I don’t think people should be banned from owning them if they want one (within reason – problem is everyone has their own opinion on “within reason”). I can’t say I’m used to them.

    When my son attended preschool in Spain he brought home a gift of a toy gun he received on Three King’s Day. He LOVED it. We never really encouraged gun play, but let him keep it. I just thought it was interesting because that would have NEVER happened in a US school. Can you imagine? Funny though how in places where kids still play innocently with toy guns the death toll by guns is far under what it is in the US where we seem to have both a loathing and a love of guns. In some cases kids have been expelled for saying “gun” or bringing a lego gun to school.

    My kids also went to an international school where armed gunmen (Gurkha’s) guarded the school. This in a country with strict gun control. It was intimidating at first, but we got used to it. Didn’t make me feel any safe for my kids though.

    And I agree with you 100%. I don’t feel safer with authorized gunmen hanging around, I too envision complete chaos as bullets ricochet around a confined space should someone want to challenge the guards. This went through my mind when we were at a mall in Malaysia and there were a couple of gunmen (in street clothes, no badges) guarding a jewelry store. We did’t hang out there too long.

    Unfortunately, guns are a part of our lives I guess most of us accept it. Can’t say I live in constant panic over it though.

    1. thank you for sharing your experiences of other countries – it helps me put my somewhat emotional response to seeing them in my face into better context. I also think you have nailed it with the last paragraph but one – its the chaos in a confined space that concerns me most.

  4. I was in NJROTC for four years and one of our trips was to a base and we were able to work with simulators and actual guns in the simulator. So we felt the weight of having such a weapon in our hands. We also felt the same kickback from the weapon as if was discharging an actual bullet, so I know the power of a gun.

    As far as getting used to it, I couldn’t tell you because I never really paid attention to the seen or unseen, for the same reasons as you. There have been several shootings in the area where i live and that’s something you never get used to, but I have noticed that people are starting to become numb to it.

  5. It’s something I have gotten at least a bit more used to. However, sometimes when I travel in New York and see the armed police officers standing guard at Penn Station, I will suddenly be struck by the bizarreness of the situation Like: “do we seriously need this?” It’s unsettling to think that we do.

  6. It is unsettling to think we need to be protected in such a manner and I am sure that is another layer behind my discomfort. Yes it is this bad ………….

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