Canadians often go to great lengths to painstakingly detail all the ways we differ from our neighbours across the 49th Parallel. Part of that is a simple consequence of living for so long in the shadow of a global superpower, and the other part, I suspect, is because of a fear that we may have more in common with our American counterparts than we'd like to admit.
But then something like Sunday's horrific massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando hits the headlines and the differences are thrown into stark relief.
Where else but America would a man be able to walk into a store and legally purchase a high-powered assault rifle after being questioned not once, but twice, by the FBI?
Where else but America would a leading presidential candidate shift the conversation to himself by rushing to take credit for "being right" about Islamic extremism, mere hours after 49 innocent people took in their last breath?
Where else but America would the all-powerful gun lobby blame the FBI's "political correctness" for failing to stop the massacre?
Where else but America would the worst mass shooting in the country's history — the 175th of 2016, at last count — be instantly turned into grist for the media mill, a flurry of think pieces and punditry belying the real human tragedy this surely is?
Where else but America would politicians care more about losing votes in their next campaign than protecting the lives of the constituents they're supposed to serve?
As Canadians, it's difficult to grasp the relationship that so many Americans have to their guns. Not only is the right to bear arms codified in the Constitution, it's seen as a symbol of independence, of manhood, of tradition. Even as a nation of hunters, Canadians never quite developed that same affinity. We, of course, have much stricter ownership laws than the U.S., and yet we still rank 12th in the world in guns per capita at 30.8 per 100 people. Still light years behind the alarming 112.6 per 100 people in the U.S., but, if you want a gun badly enough, it's not that hard to find here.
Personally, I think the biggest divide between our two nations on this issue is a cultural one. Not entertainment culture, per se — after all, Canadians are exposed to much of the same violent TV, film and music Americans are. There is this monstrous impulse among mass shooters to right a perceived wrong with the blood of innocent strangers. I don't know if it's a deep-seated sense of entitlement brought on by some dark and twisted version of the American Dream, but whatever the case, the same compulsion simply doesn't exist with the same intensity and frequency in Canada, or, for that matter, in most other nations.
The more pressing question: does it even matter? We have this tendency to intellectualize the gun debate, to search high and low for something that will explain all the senseless violence. It's a way to rationalize an act that defies all logic, but, for the people who've lost a loved one at the hands of an aggrieved gunman, all the talk must feel like cold comfort.
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Morbid buzzwords in a political debate that's been spinning its wheels for far too long. But behind all the debate, behind all the puffed-up partisanship are the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who will never see another sunrise, never share another kiss, never live to see another day in a life that was so cruelly ripped away from them. So officials can spend more time bashing their heads against the wall searching for answers that may never come. Or they can finally, mercifully take action. Lord knows it's long overdue.