overage of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, was splashed across newspaper front pages around the world, a testament to the universal horror of a tragedy in which 20 children, all of them ages 6 and 7, were killed in their classrooms by a lone gunman. There was an outpouring of sympathy from the international community, which was inevitably followed by utter bewilderment at America's continued obsession with lethal weapons. The U.S. is home to 270 million privately held guns, which equates to an average of nine guns per 10 people. (In second place, with roughly 1 gun for every two people, is Yemen, "a conflict-torn Arab nation still dealing with poverty, political unrest, a separatist Shia urgency, an al Qaeda branch, and the aftereffects of a 1994 civil war," notes Max Fisher at The Washington Post.) It is no coincidence that the U.S. also boasts the highest rate of gun-related deaths among developed countries — an American is 20 times more likely to die at the hands of a gun then another member of the developed world. Here, some reactions from around the world:
There is something inexorable about the phenomenon of mass shootings in the United States. We have been forced to write about it with tragic regularity for years. We have exhausted adjectives to describe our horror and revulsion. We have stated and restated the problem…
The time for platitudes is past, Mr. President. It’s time the U.S. cured its gun sickness.
The final difference is in many ways the most destructive of all. This is America's sheer difficulty in conducting any kind of rational collective conversation about gun control. In any other country, a shooting spree of the sort that took place in Newtown would set off a serious public debate. That's what happened after Dunblane in the U.K., after Port Arthur in Australia, and after [Anders] Breivik's killings in Norway. Nothing like this is now possible in the polarized gun culture of America, where law and politics have been unable to respond to such events for at least 20 years. That is why President Obama's very mild call this weekend for "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this," was regarded as so unusual...
Mad men with guns will always be a danger, whatever the gun laws. But modern America still seems to lack the will to make even modest regulatory changes, let alone to confront a real and growing danger to the health and survival of significant numbers of its young people.
In Arizona, where the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the slaughter of six others took place last year, almost anyone can have a permit to carry a concealed weapon and be allowed to take guns into a bar (where presumably they are going to drink something more potent than lemonade); that same state's legislators have talked about passing laws permitting teachers and students to carry their guns to school with them. Such is the contagion of madness.
Beyond the individual state of the killer, the U.S. has a national pathology. The legality of gun ownership is a matter of course in the U.S., more so than anywhere else in the world. In 2012, some 270 million firearms were in private ownership. Every year, (thousands of) people are killed with them. In most states it's easier to get a firearm than a driver's license.
This madness can only — if at all — be stopped in moments like this one. Against the tragic backdrop of 20 murdered children. And of a president like Barack Obama who has just won an election. The right wing has been pushed back a little, the public is appalled by the massacre.
President Obama's "never again" are little more than plaintive words. He's trying to provide comfort, but he certainly isn't promising any improvement. During Obama's first term, more than 40,000 of his compatriots died in a hail of bullets. One out of 10 of these victims was under the age of 18. He never even had the courage to at least come up with stronger laws to take some of the deadliest weapons out of the hands of civilians. Viewed in political terms, that is at least equivalent to the crime of failing to assist a person in danger. Obama points to the constitutionally protected right for US citizens to possess weapons. In reality, however, he is wary of a battle with the Republicans and the gun lobby. Their opposition to almost any kind of gun control borders on political complicity in murder and manslaughter...
[T]here is no place in Western Europe where violence from gun barrels rampages in the way it does in the United States.
Nowhere else in the world are so many weapons in circulation as in the US. In no other country are citizens as well armed. The U.S. Constitution guarantees every American the right to move about in public as though he or she is John Wayne in person. One can see it as a national tradition. But this martial approach to liberty is also a relic of the past and one that is out of step with the times. Every 20 minutes, a U.S. citizen is murdered by a firearm. American schoolchildren are killed by bullets 10 times more often than in comparable industrialized countries. Such numbers speak for themselves.
To Australians it seems incredible that U.S. politicians will not move to control guns. It seems illogical in the face of global statistics and our own experience of the success of the gun amnesty.
[T]he bigger task for American is to become a gentler, more trusting society, so that school children do not have to be drilled in cowering in store rooms.
"God takes pity on the kindergarten children" poet Yehuda Amichai wrote bitterly of a country in which it is the grownups," often Israeli soldiers, who are forced to pay the price. In America, God has no favorites: He allows even tiny angels to be massacred in a crazed and senselessly obsessed outburst of a lone gunman, armed to the teeth.
Perhaps, when President Barack Obama was shedding a tear, he grieved not only as a parent who thinks of his own children but also as a president who cries for his beloved country. These unthinkable but nonetheless recurring bloodbaths by shooting are peculiarly, if not exclusively, American, a stain on its image that gets brutally bigger as time goes by.
America is not ready to talk about how it is easier to get a handgun than it is to see a doctor, not ready to speak about the video games that have extreme violence. It is just willing to sweep up everything under the carpet of tears.
How fortunate we are that in the United Arab Emirates such an event would appear to be almost inconceivable. Long may that remain so…
In the U.A.E., with about 8 million people, an equivalent rate would be 222 gun-related deaths annually. Yet so far this year, as far as I can see, there's been one — and that was either a suicide or an accident.
For those griping about the American right to bear arms, wake up. This is the 21st century and America's a settled state, not the rough-edged, wide open spaces of the 1780s when the Constitution was framed and everything, from land to liberty, was based on violent contests. Bearing arms then might have made sense — doing so today is swallowing the nonsense posed as liberty by commercial lobbies. Some argue weapons empower victims against aggressors. If so, should second-graders pack pistols in their schoolbags? Such shaky logic simply intensifies dangerous situations.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Here's proof that Justin Bieber is just as spoiled as you always thought
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why is American internet so slow?
- What would a U.S.-China war look like?
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- The GOP must try to win over African-Americans
Subscribe to the Week