The world press on Virginia Tech

International reactions to the mass slayings range from shock and sympathy to bewilderment about America's gun culture.

Published April 18, 2007 10:00PM (EDT)

London Times, England -- Only the names change. And the numbers

The scale of the Virginia incident is, sadly, all that distinguishes it.

The truth is that only an optimist would imagine Virginia Tech will hold the new record [for the worst shooting in U.S. history] for very long. Surely in a year or two the news networks will be replaying the same footage from another college, with only the numbers different.

Perhaps of all the elements of American exceptionalism -- those factors, positive or negative, that make the US such a different country, politically, socially, culturally, from the rest of the civilised world -- it is the gun culture that foreigners find so hard to understand.

The country's religiosity, so at odds with the rest of the developed world these days; its economic system which seems to tolerate vast disparities of income; even all those strange sports Americans enjoy -- all of these can at least be understood by the rest of us, even if not shared.

The Korean Herald, South Korea -- Deep Condolences

The pain and anguish that families of the victims are now feeling is shared not only by members of the Korean community in the United States, but also Koreans here in Korea. There have been expressions of shock from President Roh Moo-hyun and from ordinary people, who may or may not have children studying at American schools.

The Korean government and people will have to do what they can, however small, to help those affected begin the healing process as soon as possible. In this regard, President Roh took the right initial action when he twice sent "deep condolences" to the victims -- the first came shortly after the tragedy was first reported, and then again when the criminal suspect was identified as a Korean student. He said he was "shocked beyond description."

The slayings were a crime committed by a member of the Korean community, one rotten apple. But the savage act was not sponsored by the Korean community or the Korean state. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the shocking incident will taint the good image that the Korean community and the Korean nation have strived to build among Americans.

Arab News, Saudi Arabia -- Heavy Price

The massacre of 32 students at Virginia Tech University has left Americans dumbstruck. It is the latest and so far the most bloody in a series of murderous attacks at US educational institutions. At each of the appalling crime scenes, youngsters have settled grudges or played out video game fantasies with powerful automatic weapons. And those weapons are sold over the counter in virtually each of America's 50 states. However at this hour of America's horrified grief, in which all decent people worldwide share, it is worth pointing out that there is a lesson here which, on past evidence, no US administration will choose even to hear, let alone learn.

That lesson is this: if a suicide bomber walks into a crowded market in Iraq and blows himself up along with 32 innocent bystanders, it is terrorism. If the same thing happens in America, it is not. Americans -- and by extension anyone in the country -- enjoy a constitutional right to bear arms. However anachronistic this may seem to outsiders given that the days of frontiersmen and citizens' militias are long past, there still remains a powerful lobby, funded by the weaponry manufacturers themselves, that defends what it claims is a fundamental right.

Yet at the same time, the Americans lose no time in insisting that others around the world surrender their weaponry -- whether the weaponry belongs to Afghan tribesmen, Iraqi neighborhood patrols or, on a larger scale, the nuclear arms of North Korea and the suspected Iranian atomic program. The scale of the weapon is irrelevant. There is an inherent moral contradiction in the rights that Americans seek to maintain for their own citizens and the demands they make on the citizens of other countries.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia -- A Society Armed and Dangerous

With the Virginia Tech massacre setting a sickeningly high American record for gun rampages, will anything be changed in that country's debate on gun control? Not immediately: its politicians are dodging the issue, running scared at the influence of a particular voice over a sizeable tranche of voters as a presidential election looms.

The voice is that of the National Rifle Association, which bills its 3 million members as the "front-line defenders of the Second Amendment". America's shooters claim a vital democratic safeguard is enshrined in this late-18th-century afterthought to the US Constitution: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

At present, the front line includes Florida, where the association backs a bill that would prevent "arrogant" business owners barring customers from bringing guns into their parking lots. And the Tennessee legislature is debating a bill -- supported by the association -- that will disallow any curbs on carrying guns during a state of emergency. In Illinois, there is a battle over moves to ban the .50 calibre sniper rifles, powerful enough to bring down an aircraft at a range of more than a kilometre.

It would be nice to think that the past decade's string of big massacres, plus many small ones not reported here, are gradually persuading Americans that gun ownership is scant protection against atrocities and crime when nearly everyone who wants guns can arm themselves to the teeth and will nearly always have the advantage of surprise and superior firepower.

Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica -- Guns Again Spark an American Tragedy

Although we are not accustomed, in a single event, to the scale of the Virginia Tech mayhem, we in Jamaica understand only too well the trauma of gun crime. Indeed, in this country more than 1,000 persons are murdered annually, many of them multiple killings, with upwards of 80 per cent the result of shootings.

There is, too, another connection between Jamaica and the United States with regard to gun violence, which we feel has to be addressed on the basis of national policy -- mostly on the part of the Americans. It is known, and notoriously known to be so, that the majority of the guns used in Jamaica to commit criminal violence originate in the United States, whether smuggled directly to this island or via third countries.

We do not believe that the United States is doing enough to deal with this problem. And it is not enough for U.S. authorities to say that they cooperate with Jamaica in an effort to stem the flow of weapons. The issues are far more fundamental. The bottom line is that guns are too easily accessible in the U.S.

Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates -- Shooting in America

We are shocked, too ...

America is currently in the best of positions in many respects. Its people are among the best cared for in the world by virtue of the affluence of the nation and the systems that support the life there. Yet, without doubt, something ails the society at its very roots, symptoms of which are evident in cases like the Virginia one. Whether this has something to do with the overall weakening of the value systems, or America's own pre-occupation with the affairs in the rest of the world in as much that it has little time to care for its own affairs, is simply a matter of conjecture.

Globe and Mail, Canada -- A mass shooting at school, yet again

If the frequency of the mass shootings is uniquely American, it is also uniquely American to have a respected public-health authority label 220 school shootings in six years as rare. That lack of perspective goes some distance toward explaining why so deadly a massacre as the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 did not bring about a nationwide crackdown on guns. (Twelve students, one teacher and two teenage gunmen died at Columbine.) "What have we done as a nation in the eight years since Columbine about this problem?" Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, asked [Monday]. Guns are still proliferating. No new gun controls have been legislated. A federal ban on assault weapons was left to expire in September, 2004. Canada has had school shootings, but they have been much less common, and the outpouring of rage and disbelief has prompted the country's legislators to react. After Marc Lépine killed 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, the federal government passed gun-control legislation that may have helped limit the carnage last September when Kimveer Gill took semi-automatic weapons into Dawson College, also in Montreal, and killed one student. Mr. Lépine used a gun that could fire 30 bullets, but the 1991 law that followed his attack limited most rifles to five rounds of ammunition, and handguns to 10 rounds. As of [Monday] evening, it was unclear how the killer at Virginia Tech obtained a weapon. What is clear is that it is far too easy to obtain deadly weapons. A CDC survey two years ago found that 5.4 per cent of all students in Grades 9 to 12 had carried a gun in the 30 days preceding the survey. The U.S. needs to address the ease with which so many people, including the young, obtain access to lethal weapons.

By Compiled by Jonathan Vanian

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