As the U.S. grapples with one of the worst school shootings in its history, the rest of the world looks on in sympathy, grief and disbelief.
Overseas analysts and policymakers have been quick to blame the usual American suspects for the mass shooting in Newton, Conn. that left 20 children and eight adults dead: the lack of gun control, the stereotypical American culture of violence, a poor understanding of mental welfare and lack of education.
For commentators such as Marc Pitzke, writing for the German paper, Der Spiegel, gun ownership is seen as “an important, if misguided” part of America’s “outdated national identity.” Pitzke argues that this culture of gun ownership is not on the fringes of society, as in some developed nations, but embraced by “nice, harmless people like [mother of the shooter] Mrs. Lanza, who had a military-grade assault rifle in her closet.” A fear that America’s national identity is eroding has caused some to cling more closely to their weapons — as President Obama once hypothesized, to his peril — despite how “fatally counterproductive” gun ownership has shown itself to be, writes Pitzke.
The current gun laws in Germany require prospective gun-owners to prove necessity, expertise and in some cases undergo a psychological evaluation before permission is granted. Der Spiegel notes that the Newtown tragedy has caused lawmakers in Germany to push for even tighter regulations. The news site also rounds up commentary from across the country, in which the overall consensus is that guns are to blame. The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“And the Republicans too, like all Americans, must ask themselves what’s more important: the right to bear arms, or schools and universities that aren’t plagued by the fear of death. A massacre of children at Christmas isn’t part of the American dream.”
In Britain, The Economist’s Lexington blog points out that whether stricter gun laws would have stopped Friday’s killings is “ a separate question from whether it is a good idea to allow private individuals to own guns.” The answer to that second question, the writer decides, is no: gun ownership has effectively been banned in the U.K. following the Dunblane Primary School massacre in 1996, when 16 schoolchildren were murdered. However he offers one caveat: Brits arguably have a “native gun-distrust,” and the issue is ultimately a democratic choice for Americans to make.
Commentators in Australia are keen to offer their own lessons from history: following a 1996 massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania, in which a lone gunman killed 35 people, the country’s gun laws were overhauled. The Canberra Times touches on the possibility for the U.S. to do the same, but notes that the culture of gun ownership is “so well-entrenched” that “a buyback would be out of the question.”
The most bleak reaction comes from China, where on the same day as the Newtown shootings, a 36-year-old man entered a school campus in Chengping and stabbed twenty-two children and one adult, none fatally. American journalist Evan Osnos, who writes for The New Yorker from China, reports that many Chinese are baffled as to why “the government or regular people” in the U.S. do not stand up to demand better gun control. “Even to those who desperately want to be American,” he wrote, “this special brand of American madness lies not in the banal fact that deranged men attack children, but in the shame that the rest of us, all of us, allow our laws to enable it.”