When I shared an article about the Orlando mass shooting and expressed my regrets that, as a Canadian, I really couldn’t do much more than send my thoughts and prayers, such as they are, Mel (and yes, I’m another Mel—try not to get confused) challenged me to write a reflection on the tragedy from the Canadian perspective.
My response: Eek!
Why? Because I’m probably one of the least qualified people to speak for my fellow Canadians.
I mean, I don’t live on what Chuck Wendig calls “hetero-normative white dude mountain,” but I married a hetero-normative white dude, I am white myself, and hetero, and cis-gendered. I live in a northern mining town that, while it was founded by immigrants from fourteen different countries, those fourteen countries were all white European. For example, my heritage is Finnish and Irish. Yes. I am neon-pale, fish-belly white.
I’m probably snugly ensconced in the foothills, maybe an alpine valley—oh! is there a tarn? But I digress.
So I’m not going to speak for all Canadians. I’m going to speak for this Canadian and I’ll ask you, kind readers, to refrain from generalizing my very specific opinions to other Canadians generally. We are many voices.
I remember very clearly sitting with my husband, over breakfast, on Sunday morning, seeing the news, and being completely stunned. The most devastating mass shooting in US history. It was surreal. We couldn’t relate.
Part of that is because, well, just pop open Google maps and take a look at how far away Sudbury, Ontario is from Orlando, Florida.
The rest of it comes down to the essential differences between Canada and the US.
Maybe it has to do with how we became nations. You fought to bring your country into being through the War of Independence. We . . . well, we asked the mother country to take a good look at what had just happened with their former colonies (ahem, all y’all), and negotiated succession through a long and sometimes fraught but always respectful political process (the probable origin of our infamous Canadian politesse). Yes, the Queen Elizabeth II’s image still graces our currency and, strictly speaking, she’s still our monarch, but it’s not like she sets our public policy or anything.
It could be the philosophical difference between the mosaic (Canada) and the melting pot (US). In practice, however, there is no difference in how we both apply these ideals. We were both founded by people who were seeking religious or political freedom and we both support the right of any immigrant to the same, essential freedoms.
Our relative size, vis a vis population probably has a big impact. Canada has had its mass shootings (though I notice the lone gunman who attacked Parliament Hill is absent—maybe he didn’t actually kill enough people to be considered a true mass shooter), but you’ll notice, they’re far fewer than similar incidents in the US. I think about Jim C. Hines’ post in which he offers some facts and statistics about terror and tragic events, in and beyond US borders. On Sunday, Facebook’s memories prompted me with a post on another mass shooting in the US a year ago.
The US is just so much more populous than Canada. If we had as many people, we’d probably have just as many incidents of violence, but we would probably still not have as many incidents of gun-related violence.
Here we come to the critical difference between our countries: our respective gun laws and policies.
In Canada, we don’t have the Constitutional right to bear arms. And I’m not knocking the Second Amendment. At the time, every US citizen bore the responsibility to defend their new country from foreign threats. It was necessary.
Canada, not so much. The military and police? Yes, they bear the collective responsibility for defending us and keeping public order. Other than that, hunters buy rifles, sometimes shot guns, so that they can, with the proper hunting permits, bag their quota of pheasant, duck, goose, deer, moose, or even bear. Our indigenous peoples depend on hunting if they live in their respective traditions. There are still a good number of bow hunters around, too.
No hunter will buy a handgun or a sub-machine gun, however. It’s just not practical.
We have our share of gun collectors and sport rifle-persons who may purchase either, or both. I understand in the latter case that there are custom sport rifles that are made for those who complete either on an amateur level, or professionally.
In order to purchase a firearm in Canada, one has to take a gun safety course, obtain the proper permits, and there is no such thing as cash and carry. You have to be patient if you want to own a gun in Canada. Further, it is not unheard of outside military and police forces, but it is extremely rare that a Canadian could obtain a permit for a handgun or a military weapon. It requires a further, specialized permit. And a permit to conceal said handgun? Nah-uh. Not for the average citizen.
This thing happened a few years ago, though. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Canada’s so-called long gun registry. If you don’t care to read, back in the 90’s, the government resurrected the Canadian Firearm Registry, which had been active during the World Wars. After years of largely unregulated firearm ownership, Canadians took exception to having to register every firearm they owned, and few took kindly to the government keeping track of who owned how many firearms of what kind.
Some, like my husband (he was just a recreational shooter, target shooting and the gun range), voluntarily surrendered their weapons rather than having them registered, not having used them in a number of years and not seeing the value in keeping them if they had to be registered. Most, however, resisted, and, after years—years—of non-compliance, the government gave over. And then, many of those who had surrendered their guns took exception, and understandably so. It was considered all around to be a poor decision on the part of the government.
So in Canada, Mateen would not have been able to purchase an AR-15, not without due process. It would have been a lot more difficult for him to act in the heat of the moment. If a mass shooter survives to face justice in Canada, the time and patience it takes to get a gun goes to prove pre-meditation. It should be noted that most mass shooters don’t survive, though.
Mateen’s actions, while not unheard of in Canada, are not part of our conflict resolution gestalt. We prefer that long, protracted process of discussion and/or mediation and/or therapy. If conflicts blow up, it’s more likely to be physical assault, perhaps with a hand-held weapon, like a knife, or a bat. While a lot of people may be injured, fewer are likely to die. Of course, there are gangs and organized crime syndicates that will espouse the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. They’re criminals, though.
So when I see a mass shooting occur in the US, I can’t relate. It is literally foreign. It doesn’t make sense. The reactions to such events of the pro-gun lobby, or the bigots trying to pin this on Mateen’s religion or race, don’t make sense. My horror and sadness take on a subtly different tenor to that of a US citizen, because to me, a person who has always lived in a moderate country, the solutions seem so simple.
But as the reaction of many of my fellow moderate Canadians to the attempted long gun registry shows, what seem to be simple solutions may be extremely complicated to implement.
What can a Canadian do? I have no right to tell you how to run your country, how to vote, or how to deal with people who perpetrate violence, whether they are true criminals, or people so overwhelmed by fear and hatred that they feel violence is their only option.
So I send my thoughts and prayers, such as they are. I can tell you that I stand with you in your pain and grief. I can’t tell you that I will help, however I can, even if it’s only a post like this that is so woefully inadequate I hesitate to call it help at all.
We all do what we can to make the world a better place. I encourage you all to do what you can to make your country a better place. Make your voices heard with your votes, speak to your representatives, keep the faith, and keep at it. This is not going to be an easy solution. It will take time. Stay the course. As long as it takes. Future generations will thank you.
And by all that you hold dear, be present. Try not to turn away. Extend a helping hand to someone in pain. Yours may be the hand that holds them back from taking that next, fatal step.
Mel(anie) maintains a blog, Writerly Goodness at https://melaniemarttila.ca/ Go read.