It Can Happen Here

It can happen, even in a quiet place like Nova Scotia. (Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild)

If it had happened in Virginia, it would not have shocked me so much. Not that you are ever prepared for a mass shooting. But as one of my children neared the end of their high school days and there had been a couple of reports of gun-related problems in our community, I was secretly glad that school had been canceled as a result of COVID-19.

When you are a parent of a child in school in America, you live daily with the grim thought that it could happen here.

But Nova Scotia? Where I’m from? I had lived in Nova Scotia for 35 years and I never knew a single person who owned a gun. Not one. In Virginia, there are five gun shops within twenty miles of where I live.

So when I heard that a gunman had killed at least 22 people, including an RCMP officer, during a 12-hour murder spree on Sunday across a section of the province, I was honestly deeply stunned. Not that mass murders don’t happen in Canada, but they are rare and Ontario or Quebec loomed in my mind as the places where this kind of violence could happen. Not Nova Scotia.

The reality is, however, that it can happen in Nova Scotia. The individual who decides to kill people for whatever reason is difficult to stop. The knife attack at a Japanese subway stop that kills a dozen people or the terrorist attack that kills dozens of people with a truck in France are no different than a murder spree with a gun that that kills 22. Only the numbers change. People are murdered regardless of the reason.

What does matter is what you do to prevent these gun attacks from happening regularly. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to name just three countries are far ahead of the United States when it comes to preventing gun violence.

April may be the first month in decades that the US does not have a school shooting. The reason? Only one – there is no school. If school were still in session, you can bet there would have been at least one or more gun-related mass murders at schools in the US.

The “Sound of Freedom”?

Canada does not have the equivalent of a 2nd Amendment in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And it does not need a 2nd Amendment. Canadians (like the citizens of the countries mentioned above) are not obsessed with firearms. Recently someone posted in a local community online email group that the sound of someone having target practice with an assault weapon in their backyard (I hear it almost every day where I live in Virginia) was “the sound of FREEDOM!”

What a load of codswallop. I have always been puzzled why Americans so strongly link “freedom” to the right to own a gun rather than the right to vote. But here we see a fundamental difference between the US and Canada (and almost every democratic nation on the planet).

Many Americans don’t trust government. (For me, this is most obvious when it comes to health care. Americans don’t want a single payer system because they don’t want the government running their health care. That will take away their “liberty.” Never mind the other democratic nations in the world who have universal health care and seem to have as much liberty as the US.)

So American gun rights activists and far-right conspiracy theorists believe that they need to be armed to the teeth because you never know when the “deep state” will try to take over America. Conservative media outlets magnify this issue every chance they get.

The issue of gun ownership is also as cultural as it is political. Take Switzerland for example. It’s a country with very high gun ownership.

“People grow up [in Switzerland]in a very different culture around firearms. They’re taught to treat firearms responsibly,” according to University of Toronto professor Jooyoung Lee, an authority on gun ownership and gun violence. “They’re socialized into a world where the firearm is understood as part of his duty to a country. It’s part of serving the military. They take classes to work on marksmanship.”

Canadians, by and large, have a greater trust in their elected representatives and don’t seem to be so paranoid about a “secret” government take over.

Canadians do own guns. There were about 2.5 million firearm licenses given in Canada in 2018. In 2018, Stats Can reported that 249 Canadians were killed by guns, far the most by hand guns.

While there more gun violence in Canada than Switzerland, Canadians share with the Swiss a culturally responsible attitude toward guns that seems to be missing in the US.

All of which makes what happened in Nova Scotia seem so bizarre and out of place.

Sadly, we live in a world where we need to accept these risks. We can reduce them (as in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand) but we can never eliminate them. No matter where we live.

One thought on “It Can Happen Here”

  1. I agree completely. My husband has guns for hunting because we are in rural Nova Scotia. But they are locked up. In 10 years I have only seen his guns twice…to scare off a porcupine who refused to leave our dogs alone. We don’t worship guns. We mostly trust our government. But we still deal with misogyny- which is what I believe this monster was about.

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