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Guns abound in America – on shooting ranges, in homes, in conversation.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

If there is one thing that distinguishes the United States from Canada it's the extent of its relationship – a love affair – with guns. No one recognizes that better than Canadians living south of the border. Here, expats describe the moment they realized they weren't in Canada any more.

Danielle Donovan

Lives and works in Birmingham, Ala., from New Brunswick:

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My moment came when my then-boyfriend, now husband mentioned that he needed to have his conceal-and-carry permit reviewed.

He then showed me where the guns were in the house (all over) and gave me a quick safety lesson. What perplexed me most and still perplexes me today is not why Americans own guns, but the American obsession with assault rifles and hollow-point rounds. A handgun or rifle I can understand, but who outside a war zone needs a Soviet-era, semi-automatic rifle with hollow points?

Jeff Gebhart

Works in IT in Oak Ridge, Tenn., from Mankota, Sask.:

Honestly, I think there's a bigger difference between urban and rural Canada with respect to firearms than there is between, for instance, rural Canada and rural United States.

I grew up in a rural area (I had nine people in my high-school graduating class) and firearms were an everyday part of life. You learned to shoot, and that was just the way things were. If there was a mangy coyote, you took care of it. The gun was a tool, just like a hammer or a saw, it had a purpose and you used it for that purpose. That's basically the way things are here for me.

You don't see folks out there brandishing guns or waving them around, but it's there and available as a tool if necessary.

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Brian Monkman

Technology project manager in Mechanicsburg, Pa., originally from Oakville, Ont.:

It was about 12 years ago and there were two things.

The first was about two months after I had arrived. It was some time in October. I went over to a co-worker's place and the kids were home from school. Not being aware of any holidays around that time I asked him why they were home. He looked at me as if I was from another planet and said, "It's opening day of deer season."

The second was the following spring. I borrowed a co-worker's pickup to move something over my lunch hour. As I was about to leave with his keys, he said: "Oh, by the way … there is a loaded gun in the glove compartment, so don't get pulled over." I asked him why he needed a gun and he said, "You just never know, you know."

Michelle Curry

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Stay-at-home mother in Baltimore, Md., from Winnipeg:

Shortly after I moved to Oklahoma, I was adding new friends to my Facebook account and I noticed that one of the ladies had posted that she was going to the gun store with her husband to pick out his birthday present. Shortly after, there was a picture of him holding his gift proudly.

Shortly after that, another friend posted her desire for a pink handgun and posted pictures of it – and she received many comments admiring it. She then received the gun as a gift from her husband. I thought at first it may just be because I was in a military community, but I soon realized that this was pretty commonplace in Oklahoma and nearby Texas.

Ben Wright

Web co-ordinator in Atlanta, Ga., from PEI:

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend at church and an acquaintance of my friend walked up to him saying, "Hi, John, what have you been shooting lately? Have you gotten any new guns?"

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Between the two of them they own (legally) a range of handguns and rifles, including a couple of AK-47s.

The two men are both highly educated and reasonably well off. The church where the conversation took place is a large, socially moderate church in the heart of a major metropolitan area.

While I'm sure those types of conversations are held in Canada from time to time, it was a first for me and I don't think many people here would have found it unusual.

Luke MacDonald

A student at Brigham Young

University in Provo, Utah, from New Glasgow, N.S.:

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The moment when I really realized the huge difference in the gun culture was immediately following the movie-theatre shooting in Colorado [in July, 2012].

I thought (probably like many others) that the shooting might spark discussion on tighter gun control. However, what I saw on social media and heard in conversations with Americans was the opposite. Yes, it sparked discussion on gun control, but the majority of people I heard from thought that the gun laws should be loosened.

Colleen Pendergast

Former school administrator

in Nantucket, Mass., from Edmonton:

When I lived in Utah, not only were guns prevalent but the general "gun talk" was also prevalent. I just remember people always defending their guns and promoting the freedom to own guns, even if the topic didn't come up directly.

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Here in Massachusetts, I can't remember ever having general conversations about guns with my friends. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a similar amount of guns in each state, but the general discourse and general defensiveness around guns is far less in Massachusetts than it was in Utah.

Robert Slaven

Actuary in Arizona, from


I lived in California after moving to the U.S. and attitudes toward guns there were very similar to those among the Canadians I know.

But we just moved to Phoenix two weeks ago. On the second or third day we were here, we saw someone carrying openly, with a holster on his belt and a handgun in the holster. Our joint reaction was, "Well, welcome to Arizona!"

Anne Britton

Optometrist living in Rapid City, S.D., from Montreal

I grew up in Montreal in a family that does not hunt and I had never seen a gun up close until moving here. That was my wow moment. Here in South Dakota, the last frontier, my in-laws shoot prairie dogs from their back porches. Guns are in people's cars, in the back of their pickup in the gun rack, under the seat, in the glove compartment. And in their houses. And they will tell you it is perfectly normal and safe. When my friend posted on Facebook a picture of her licence to carry-conceal, I texted her to ask why she needed that.

Her answer: to protect my family!

Q: Did you receive any threats of any kind?

A: No!

Q: Then why do you need protection?

A: Just in case.

Q: Did your house get broken into?

A: No.

Q: What about your kids finding it in your house or your purse?

A: They know better than to touch it.

People here in the U.S. have become complacent about guns. They're around, they're ours, we have the right to them and you better not try to take it away. Assault weapons, too? Yes, it's my right and I like to shoot them. I'm not hurting anyone, they say. They really like their guns.

I worked evening shifts in Montreal while in college. Walked home at midnight and never felt scared without a gun. I feel even safer here in South Dakota. People don't lock their front doors – maybe they should do that instead of running to buy a gun.

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