The last thing I expected to see at a Canadian veterans’ post in Nova Scotia was a TV news story about a mass shooting in Boston.
On vacation in Halifax, I was about to attend my first old school R&B “hootenanny” last Saturday, a monthly dance party hosted by a close friend and her husband. While the DJ hooked up his equipment and patrons settled in with drinks and wings at the Army navy Air Force Veterans in Canada Unit #349 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, I stood in front of the TV watching CNN and staring at the aftermath of a shocking crime in the city where I live.”
AT LEAST 7 PEOPLE INJURED IN BOSTON MASS SHOOTING,” read a CNN breaking news chyron. (It was later corrected to eight people.) The reporter explained that people were hurt “during a situation” just before the start of J’ouvert, the morning parade in Dorchester that marks the beginning of Boston’s annual Caribbean festival, a summertime staple in the city for 50 years.
I’ve been to that festival numerous times and know the neighborhood well. So even as the CNN correspondent spoke, I was more focused on familiar sights, visible beyond the metal barriers and police officers and vehicles, 650 miles away — the distinct red and yellow storefront of Blue Hill Tire Shop and Blue Hill Avenue, the main artery that connects Boston’s Black communities. Even though none of the injuries were considered life-threatening, I ached for everyone who left their homes early for a parade only to find themselves running from the piercing sound of shots fired.
During my time in Nova Scotia, I was asked by curious Canadians about incessant gun violence in America. And it’s not as if Canada is immune to mass shootings. In April 2020, a heavily armed man went on a 13-hour rampage in rural Nova Scotia. Before the gunman was fatally shot by police he killed 22 people, including Heidi Stevenson, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable. At the veterans post, a banner honoring Stevenson is prominently displayed.
But such crimes there are relatively rare. Even with its long history of hunting and gun ownership, Canada has very strict firearm laws, including prohibition of assault-style weapons. And its citizens generally don’t view having a gun in their hands or an arsenal in their homes as a right ordained by God.
In 2023, the United States has had more mass shootings (477, as of Aug. 30) than days so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which classifies a mass shooting as four or more people injured or killed, not including the shooter. Those I spoke with in Canada weren’t only horrified by the massacres, but also why Americans tolerated politicians doing absolutely nothing about it. To see these atrocities from afar amplified the utter madness of it all, and how no other nation suffers this daily terror because of Republicans who care more about NRA money than American lives.
I enjoyed myself at the party. But whenever I returned to our table I glanced at the TV for updates on Boston. Instead, there was another story about a Friday mass shooting at an Oklahoma high school football game that left four injured and a 16-year-old dead. And then a white supremacist targeted and killed three Black people at a Jacksonville, Fla., store on Saturday — technically, not a mass shooting, but no less horrific.
Nova Scotians I spoke with hoped I could explain this nation’s epidemic of gun violence. But there is no explaining the unexplainable. By the end of a day when there were at least two additional mass shootings in Utah and Mississippi, the best answer I could offer was “Canada has a gun culture. But America has a gun nut culture.”