Guns stopping Canadian parent from moving to LA

By Drew Penner

Vancouver resident Lorie Campbell and her husband have been back and forth from California over the past 14 years with work commitments. The Canadian and her husband are green-cards holders, but there’s a giant issue that keeps her from transitioning permanently – U.S. gun violence.

“I don’t know if I want to move back down here,” she said. “It’s not a joke.”

And then maybe clarify that the “city” is LA: “When Campbell is in Los Angeles, she volunteers with youth on the city’s west side.”

Just the other day she had been hanging out with her one-year-old son Kingston in a Venice restaurant owned by another Canadian, and just a few hours later a guy was shot at outside nine times, with multiple bullets ripping through his upper body.

“It’s very concerning,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”

When Campbell is down here, she volunteers with youth on the city’s west side. The more time she spends with American youth, the more she learns how their psyches have been impacted by the all-too-real threat of gun violence. She recently found out one of the kids she works with was on campus at Santa Monica College on June 7, 2013 when a gunman opened fire killing five people and injuring four.

She has a lot of friends down here, but does she really want to raise Kingston in this environment?

There seem to be more optimists than ever who believe attitudes could finally be shifting about gun control.

The difference between the U.S. and Canada when it comes to firearms isn’t even close. South of the border there are 112.6 guns per 100 residents compared with 30.8 guns per 100 residents in Canada.

In the last three decades about 30 people have died in school shootings in Canada, compared with 30 in the last four months in the States.

Back on Nov. 6, in response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting that left 26 people dead and 20 wounded, the Onion published an articled titled “Nation To Wait For More Facts On Texas Shooting Before Doing Absolutely Nothing About It.”

While the piece captured the essence of political gridlock on the issue, even at that time, observers had begun to notice subtle shifts in opinions.

Carson Riddle, a 26-year-old hobby gun builder from Portland, Oregon, told me he sensed a change in the air.

“People are getting more guarded about how they feel about firearms,” he told me, as we discussed the possibility of shooting off hunting rifles and semi-automatic pistols he builds. “especially with the current government.”

Riddle seemed to be anticipating moving currents that would mark a departure from business as usual in America, exemplified for retired Canadian army radio operator Jean-Luc Martin by the time he went to a gun show in central U.S. During the event there was an announcement over the loudspeakers saying a kid had accidentally shot himself in the parking lot with a firearm. The event lethal weapon extravaganza continued right along shortly thereafter. Martin is hardly a peacenik. After all, he’s not afraid to wear a shirt with a Kalashnikov out to eat. But he was taken aback by the blasé attitude toward gun mayhem. I tried to find out more about the gun incident he referred to, but too many other Google results of gun accidents got in the way.

Fast forward to a sunny Saturday on Manhattan Beach, an upscale oceanside enclave south of Los Angeles, following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that ensured a decreased US census count by a factor of 17. The community with a median home price of $2.8 million provided the ideal place for a crowd of at least 5,000 to participate in a nation-wide push for stricter gun laws March 24. Manhattan Beach is represented in the California State Assembly by Democrat Al Muratsuchi, but in 2014 the region went for the Republican candidate. It’s a great place to test out how political ideas are trending.

Surfers took advantage of cold waters coming from the north, perhaps ushering in a blast of Canadian gun sense into the mix, while an amateur athlete on the sand by one of the many nets added some painfully self-aware commentary: “We’re the assholes out here playing volleyball while everyone else is protesting.”

It was a pleasant, controlled march along the concrete walk to Hermosa Beach, with youth doing their best to raise the overall volume from a respectable seven to perhaps an invigorating eight or eight-and-a-half out of 10. Attendees were progressives, but you couldn’t really call most of them activists.

The parents remained supportive, but it was ultimately the kids who seemed to be urging their parents on, in a bid to keep the ball rolling on the gun reform subject.

For sure there was money pouring in from established Democratic institutions, for shirts and signs and such, but the overall tone felt genuine.

A single-digit-aged girl told her mom she was protesting because she really wanted to, not because the guardian had suggested it. It typifies how much of a no-brainer this issue has become for many people young and old by now.

And 5-year-old Kabir Srikant brandished a multi-coloured sign that said True Ninjas Don’t Need Guns.

Sarah Mazur, 17, a Redondo Union High School student wore a #ENOUGH shirt and carried a minimal white sign with red lettering spelling I shouldn’t have to make this sign!

“I mean, I think the message is pretty simple,” she said, on the way to the speeches. “How many more people need to die until we get change?”

She says it’s a daily experience for her to look around at her friends and wonder if one of their lives will be taken by gun violence.

“That’s ridiculous that I have to even consider that feeling,” she said. “No one should have to go through that.”

She was overjoyed to see the outpouring of support for gun reform, and says even though it’s just signs and walking, it’s an important step towards encouraging the country to step up its game on archaic rules – such as the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

“Originally the amendment to bear arms was created so that we would have guns against the government when it was a lot smaller, but that isn’t exactly the case anymore,” she said. “I mean, guns have changed a lot. And so have we as a country.”

Duke DeLeo is only 12, but he knows times flies and he’ll be able to use his non-violent democratic firearm – the power of the ballot – in just a few years.

“I’m going to be voting,” he said, looking head across his future high school years. “I think it’s really important that I do this, to come out here to protest.”

However, he comes from the more conservative and religious Palos Verdes area, and he says gun reform isn’t exactly something his friends are talking about all the time.

When Muratsuchi took the stage in Hermosa Beach that day he reminded the crowd that he helped introduce tougher gun laws to California. Ted Lieu, the 33rd district congressman, used his time on the podium to point out that the regions in the area that have held out against federal gun reform seem to be shifting left in the Donald Trump era. This is their opening to use a change in California through upcoming mid-term elections to sway the national gun debate, he said. The most powerful words came from youth, such as Catherine Tippett, a Grade 12 student from Peninsula High School. She riffed on meme culture, suggesting it was better millennials get mocked for the jokes about eating Tide Pods rather than getting a rap as AR-15 boosters. But she was dead serious when describing the effect of a false shooter alarm at her school.

Another speaker remembered the loss of local Christiana Mae Duarte in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Janet Barker, a Redondo Union High School teacher, tried to explain to the attendees what it’s like to constantly have to worry about pushing a sullen kid over the edge, knowing he or she could have easy access to a legal assault weapon.

“Believe me, I really don’t want to be here,” she said, pointing to the risk of workplace injury or death she has to deal with, and calling the idea of arming teachers ridiculous. “My profession is defamed by critics who have no idea what goes on in the classroom.”

Annie Cho, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at North High School in Torrance, spoke with vigour.

“Politicians are showing constant inaction shooting after shooting. The only thing they’re willing to give us are thoughts and prayers.”

As soon as she said this she was like, oh crap, looking to the two politicians to her left, as laughter erupted from the audience. And she kept going with ferocity, the peaking mic adding a lovely distortion effect to her speech that crescendoed in yelling.

“We don’t want thoughts and prayers,” she said. “We want action to prevent school shootings from ever happening again.”

Enough is enough, she added.

“We elect politicians to represent us, but now they’re only speaking in the interest of lobbyists,” Cho said, glancing again to her left, cue laughter. “So politicians of the nation, if you’re watching this…and continue to ignore your constituents in favour of NRA money, watch out, because when my generation can vote we’re coming for you.”

It’s comments like these that has Campbell hopeful for possibilities south of the 49th parallel.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said the following day. “I saw so many speeches yesterday that were absolutely so inspiring.”

But she also couldn’t help but come back to how thankful she is that things are more tranquil up north.

“I think we have it really good in Canada,” she said. “I love the weather down here, but the gun laws make it less desirable.”