Canada issues grim U.S. travel advice amid mass shootings: 'Risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time'

The Government of Canada is warning its residents about mass shootings and the high rate of guns in the U.S.

(left) U.S. and Canadian flags. (right) two AR-15s mounted on a wall
“It is that this is happening with enough frequency that nobody knows when or where, but there is a risk all the time,” says an attorney on the rise in gun violence in America. (Credit: Getty Images)

Travel advice issued by the Government of Canada is asking Canadians to "familiarize yourself on how to respond to an active shooter situation" when visiting the United States, in light of the mass shooting trend looming over the country.

The Government of Canada’s travel information page reminds travellers to be cautious and take security precautions when visiting down south, while pointing in particular to the common nature of gun violence in America.

“The rate of firearm possession in the United States is high,” notes the official travel advice, last updated on May 19, 2023.

“Incidents of mass shootings occur, resulting most often in casualties. Although tourists are rarely involved, there is a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

There’s been an upward trend of mass shootings and gun-related deaths in recent years, with more than 200 mass shootings having occurred in the first five months of 2023 alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that has been tracking gun violence patterns.

For Florida-based attorney Sean Domnick, whose work intersects with the mass shooting trend in America, the problem isn’t a matter of “are we generally safe.”

“It is that this is happening with enough frequency that nobody knows when or where, but there is a risk all the time,” said Domnick to Yahoo News Canada.

“There is no predicting where it is that this is going to occur before it occurs.”

The U.S. is generally consider safe for travel by the Government of Canada. However, it is the sporadic nature and frequency of mass shootings that poses a risk.

The worst of the mass shootings, such as a recent one in a Dallas-area mall, which left nine people dead including the gunman, have been making headlines worldwide, adding to the fear and validity of the advice.

Only a week prior, an Oklahoma shooting resulted in the deaths of seven, including a woman and her three daughters. Just two days before, a man in Cleveland allegedly killed five people after he was asked by a neighbour to stop firing his gun in his yard. The man led police on a long day search leading to his capture.

And the stories don’t stop here, as it seems you can track a new story for almost every day of 2023, as mass shootings become common in the U.S.

In a statement to Yahoo News Canada, James Emmanuel Wanki, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada says “the Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously.”

“Canada monitors safety and security conditions abroad 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, to provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice and Advisories.”

Global Affairs Canada did not specify to Yahoo News Canada when exactly its "gun violence" advice was issued. However, it’s not just Canada that has issued an advice. Other countries such as New Zealand and Australia have also advised their citizens to exercise increased caution while visiting, directly pointing to the gun violence issues.

For Domnick, the advisories are not so much a warning — rather, it is a reminder to be cautious and take preventative measures.

“Gun violence is not unique to the U.S.A., but it is prevalent in the U.S.A. The risk is everywhere. You have to be aware of your surroundings.”

A deeper look into the gun pattern in America

According to the Gun Violence Archive, in each of the three last complete years in the U.S., there have been more than 600 mass shootings — almost two each day — which is when there are at least four injuries or fatalities. In 2022, there were 20,200 deaths as a result of guns and 38,550 injuries.

A study by The Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research centre, shows where public mass shootings have been taking place between 1966 to present. Top of the list is retail locations — which are known to have high and uncontrolled foot traffic — followed by restaurants and bars.

In February 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke out following a mass shooting, representing one of the many occasions he’s done so, as he looks for action at a political level, noting that their current system of for gun background checks isn't enough.

“Gun violence is an epidemic and Congress must act now,” wrote Biden in a statement.

“We need—need—commonsense gun law reforms. That includes requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, fully closing the boyfriend loophole to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, requiring safe storage of guns, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets."

Familiarize yourself on how to respond to an active shooter situation

The Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

They can select victims at random, and events evolve very quickly — so it’s important to know how to react in order to protect yourself and others around you. The protocol is to first run, hide, and fight only as a last resort.

“Follow the path of least resistance,” said Domnick. “The first thing you want to do is get away, and be aware of your surroundings.”

When an active shooter is in your vicinity, you should immediately leave your belongings behind and start to plan an escape route. While evacuating, help others escape — but do not move the wounded.

Call 911 when you are safe, and aim to hide in an area that is out of the shooter’s view, ideally with a blocked entry. It is important to share the following information with 911 operations while on the phone:

  • Location of the active shooter.

  • Number of shooters.

  • Physical description of shooters.

  • Number and type of weapons the shooter has.

  • Number of potential victims at the location.

Once you have reached a safe location, you will likely be held in that area by law enforcement until the situation is under control.

Upon law enforcement arrival, do not ask immediate questions, remain calm and follow instructions. For more information on how to protect yourself in an active shooter situation, review the official Active Shooter Reference Guide.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Government of Canada issued an "advisory" in relation to gun violence, but instead it is "advice." Yahoo Canada regrets this error. For a full list of advice related to U.S. travel, review the Government of Canada’s travel page.