I've had the good fortune of knowing a fair number of Canadians in my time. When I was stationed in Japan in the Navy twenty years ago (!) I hung out with a pack of expats in Tokyo most weekends, several of whom were Canucks. From 1995 to 1997, I was stationed at Keyport, Washington where I was part of a unit that did weapons training ops, mostly off the coast of Vancouver Island. We spent most of our off duty time in a town called Nanaimo, hanging out with locals. I developed a fondness for Tim Horton's that I still have to this day.
Based on my experience, there are a couple of generalizations about Canadians I can safely make: 1. they think our for-profit health care system is insane and 2. they think we are completely batshit crazy with the all guns and the shootings down here, eh.
One night in Nanaimo one of my shipmates had the brilliant thought of bringing his pistol (which he was not authorized to carry off base) to a local party to show off. The Americans in attendance greeted his little stunt with eye-rolling – great, thanks for representing the worst stereotype about us, dude – but the Canadians were horrified that someone would bring a deadly weapon into a peaceful, fun gathering. Mind you, we were all in our twenties and had similar tastes in movies and music and video games and whatnot. Canadian and American pop culture are very similar. There is an immense difference in the culture around guns, though, and that's the crucial distinction. They have plenty of guns in Canada, for hunting and target shooting and whatnot, but they don't make a fetish out of them as a sizeable segment of the American population does.
It's not just laws that need to change, but hearts and minds, just as we did with things like smoking and drunk driving. I especially like the drunk driving analogy. There's nothing wrong with drinking per se but it's dangerously arrogant to think you can drink as much as you want and get behind the wheel of a car. But it took years, and tough DUI laws and public pressure campaigns to get that message to sink in. We still have a drunk driving problem, but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be and we continue to make progress on it, albeit more slowly than some would like.
I was glad to see Jennifer Longdon, my pal and long-time disability and gun safety activist, press that point when she spoke with CBC's Ian Hanomansing about gun violence in the US. (The segment contains part of her chilling call to 9-11 the night she was injured in a random shooting nearly ten years ago.)
Hanomansing asked Longdon if she felt anything had been accomplished in the year since the Newtown massacre. Jennifer answered that gains have been made in the past year, both politically and legislatively, even though it may not feel like it. But she's not giving up, so neither am I and neither should you.