This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series– expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
The Colorado shootings at a movie theatre premiere of the Dark Knight Rises killed 12 and injured 58. In the aftermath, we reached out to our Canadian expats and asked them to explain America's attachment to guns and whether they have ever gotten used to it. Here are 5 perspectives on America's gun culture.
Sherry Halfyard, business consultant living in Tempe, Arizona, originally from Vancouver:
Under Arizona law, it is legal for an adult to openly carry a loaded, partially or wholly visible handgun or revolver in a belt or shoulder holster or gun scabbard in public without restriction – except in public buildings, airports, and private businesses or property posted with "No Firearms Allowed" signs. An 18-year-old, although the age of majority is 21, can legally own and carry an unconcealed weapon in Arizona.
Americans (predominately self-identified Republicans) believe it is their 'God-given right' to possess a loaded gun for the purpose of self-defence. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" – was crafted in 1791. I'm challenged with the relevance of this law in the 21st century.
This June, vacationing in northern Arizona, my spouse and I heard and saw a child (perhaps 12 to 14 years old) firing a rifle at the side of the road. I was shocked and, to be honest, a little afraid. I did not see an adult, although I don't think that would have mitigated my fear.
No one in our vacationing group, approximately eight adults, showed surprise or concern when hearing this story. After which, I discovered all of the male cabin owners in the group possessed guns, and would not consider traveling without them.
Gated communities and armed residents are increasingly becoming part of the way of middle-class American living – the new American Dream? The irony is many who are against the current gun laws (generally self-described Democrats) think nothing of living in a gated and armed security guard community. Home alone on the weekend my doorbell rang; at first I ignored it – having previously been told not to answer.
After the second ring I gathered my courage and looked through the small viewing door only to discover it was a friend dropping something off. Yes, living here has changed me.
I've become more defensive, I don't look closely at anyone while idling at an intersection, nor do I honk or flash my lights at a dangerous driver.
In Canada, a friendly gesture, flashing lights to warn drivers of awaiting police, more than once has saved me a speeding ticket. Not here, who knows how this action will be interpreted and whether or not that person has a gun?
Michelle Curry, stay-at-home mother in Baltimore, Maryland, originally from Winnipeg:
Something that really bothers me about this incident [Colorado mass shooting] and the others like this, is that it's being circulated that this is a conspiracy to "take our guns" rather than opening an honest discussion about gun control and laws.
Also everyone saying: "If I would have been there with a gun or if there were more armed people in the audience, this wouldn't have happened."
It's disturbing to me, and I am not even anti-gun.
My husband is from Texas and in the military, and we do not own a gun. We have talked about it, even though I have shot guns many times and have previously lived with someone who was a gun owner (in Canada).
It did not make me feel safer because the reality is that we had the ammo and guns separate in a locked cabinet, so even if someone did break in, there would have been no way we could get to it in time.
Plus, you are only safer with a gun if you are willing to actually point it at someone and shoot them. I am not willing to do that, so a gun then only presents the scenario that I would get shot with my own gun.
I think my husband may feel safer with a gun, especially in Baltimore, but I believe that is due to his military experience and the fact that he often carries a gun as part of his duties as a soldier, plus he has been deployed four times.
What others have said about Texas and Oklahoma are true. Guns are gifts. I know more than one person who got a gun instead of a more traditional birthday or anniversary present. I personally wouldn't want a gun instead of a diamond ring, but hey, maybe that's just me?
Robert Slaven, actuarial from Yellowknife living in Camarillo, California:
I live in California, a state that has among the toughest gun-control laws in the U.S. And they're actually not as tough as Canada's laws. There are similar rules on magazine sizes, "assault rifles," and safe storage requirements. But you don't need a licence to purchase here like you do in Canada, and they only do background checks (i.e.: checking to see if you are a convicted felon) when you purchase handguns. But gun owners in California spend a lot of time complaining about the existing laws and fighting against proposals to make the laws even tighter.
I don't notice the gun culture as much where I am. Rural California is probably different; for example, while you theoretically can get a concealed carry permit anywhere in California, it's done by the county sheriffs, and in an urban city like Los Angeles or Ventura (where I live), the sheriffs almost never approve [concealed carry] permits.
I've heard that in the rural counties, however, it's much easier, and the sheriffs are much more likely to approve them.
I'm lucky to live in one of the safest places in the U.S., with crime rates that are even lower than some places in Canada. I'd like to buy a handgun and get into practical shooting; I was a pretty good competitive rifle shooter as a teen. I just don't have the time or money right now.
Brian Monkman, technology project manager in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
I am very much against the gun culture. My son-in-law owns a couple of firearms and I made him break them down and store some of the key parts in the storage locker he rented. I told him that was one of the things he would have to accept to get a roof over his head.
For anything to really change, it will require a constitutional amendment. Anything less than that will just be window dressing. Leaving it at the state level will just ensure a patchwork of laws that anyone can get around if he or she really wants a gun.
In my opinion, a significant number of Americans are wedded to gun ownership. They view it as important, if not more important to some, as having a vehicle. It sort of defines who he or she is.
When I first moved so south central Pennsylvania (just south of Harrisburg) I was struck by a few things.
1. The permit to own a firearm is also a carry permit.
2. A large number of people where I work carry firearms in their vehicles.
3. The first day of hunting season is a school holiday.
Jonathan Havercroft, political science professor from Montreal living in Norman, Oklahoma:
I think there are a couple of important distinctions to draw when discussing America's gun culture. First, I think why people own guns breaks down along three different lines.
1. People who like to hunt.
2. People who carry weapons for personal protection.
3. People who think shooting guns is fun.
My sense is that American hunters tend to have a similar attitude toward guns as Canadian hunters, and tend to own similar types of guns (i.e. hunting rifles).
The big difference in the U.S. is in the gun ownership for personal protection group.
In Canada, I knew many people who owned guns to hunt, but I can't think of anyone who told me the primary reason he or she owned a gun was for personal protection.
In the U.S., I know a lot of people who own a gun to protect their house and a few who have a conceal and carry permit. I also think that this gun ownership for personal security group is more pronounced in the south and southwest U.S., and they tend to be more libertarian in their outlook.
These owners tend to think the best deterrence against gun crime is for more people, who are properly trained, to carry guns and to protect themselves. And I would say that this attitude goes hand in hand with a stronger suspicion of the government in general.
The third group are people who think that shooting guns at gun ranges or out in the country is a fun thing to do or a good stress reliever. In Oklahoma, guns as entertainment is a big part of the culture.
There is a local gun range that advertises "Full Automatic Thursdays" on the radio – a day when people can come to the range and fire automatic weapons. And I would say that a lot of people (men and women, liberals and conservatives) in Oklahoma just see it as a fun thing to do.
Some quotes have been edited and condensed.