The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Reacting to the tragedy at Virginia Tech


April 17, 2007

I don’t have anything that intelligent or insightful to say about the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. I was teaching when it happened, and one of my students with a laptop was checking the news and reported the still breaking story to the class.

As this is an international relations blog, I thought that this story in today’s Washington Post (which, for those of you not from the area, is treating this as a local story– VA Tech is 4 hours from here but still seen as one of the “local” state schools) was somewhat interesting. It discusses the international reaction to the shooting, and the relevant aspect (at least as I read it) is how the rest of the world sees the USA. They are shocked, but not surprised.
That speaks volumes, I think. But I don’t know for sure.

Shock, Sympathy And Denunciation Of U.S. Gun Laws
British Newspaper Asks, ‘What Price the Right to Bear Arms?’

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; Page A11

LONDON, April 16 — The Virginia Tech shootings received extensive news coverage around the world Monday, leading many to question how such violence could keep happening in the United States.

In Britain, there was shock at the scale of the killings, but many people said they were not surprised, seeing the United States as a nation obsessed with guns, where firearms are easy to obtain.

“I think the reason it happens in America is there’s access to weapons — you can go into a supermarket and get powerful automatic weapons,” Keith Ashcroft, a psychologist, told the Press Association. Ashcroft said he believed such access, along with a culture that makes gun ownership seem normal, increases the likelihood of such attacks in the United States.

“When you look at these cases, someone is depressed and they have access to weapons, they’re going to be using that method to kill,” Ashcroft said. “It’s just simple opportunity.”

[A White House spokesman said President Bush was horrified by the rampage and offered his prayers to the victims, the Associated Press reported. “The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said.]

Early editions of Tuesday’s London papers were dominated by huge headlines and photos of police hauling the wounded out of a building at Virginia Tech. “Executed at Uni,” said the Daily Mirror, using British slang for university. The Daily Mail’s headline, meanwhile, asked, “What price the right to bear arms?”

Gun ownership is strictly regulated in Britain. The Home Office, which is in charge of public safety, said gun crime accounts for less than half a percent of all crime recorded by police, according to the Press Association.

In a special report on BBC 24 Monday evening, a commentator, Gavin Hewitt, said mass murder on school campuses had become “part of the American landscape.” The network showed video footage of Columbine High School in Colorado and the Amish shooting in Pennsylvania, and noted that the powerful U.S. gun lobby had blocked gun restrictions that Europeans regard as simple common sense. “Even after today’s horrific tragedy, laws are unlikely to change,” Hewitt said.

Queen Elizabeth II, who is scheduled to visit Virginia next month, was “shocked and saddened” by the killings, according to a spokesman at Buckingham Palace.

The story led Canadian news reports throughout the day. But while Canada, which has strict gun controls, has long looked askance at the proliferation of guns in the United States, no sense of superiority was expressed. Canada has had five school shootings since 1975, the latest last year when a young man shot 20 students at a junior college in Montreal, killing one.

In France, news of the shootings dominated the Web pages of every major French newspaper. Bloggers responding to the reports overwhelmingly blamed the tragedy on what they called lax American rules on gun ownership.

“In France, it is incomprehensible for us to understand what could prompt someone to own a handgun,” a blogger identified as Aliosha wrote on the Web site of the daily newspaper Liberation, adding that it is “the right (almost the duty) for each American to be able to obtain a weapon without much trouble.”

[Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday decried the “gun culture” in America and advocated tough gun laws, Reuters news agency reported. Howard introduced strict gun ownership laws after a massacre of 35 people in 1996.]

In Iraq, major television networks broadcast news of the shootings in brief bulletins at the top of each hour Monday, but devoted most of their airtime to stories closer to home — the resignations of cabinet ministers loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the crisis in Darfur and recent bombings in Algeria.

In Colombia, a close U.S. ally notorious for its political violence, the Web site of the country’s biggest newspaper, El Tiempo, had by midafternoon posted six stories on the shootings. In Lima, Peru, El Comercio ran the banner headline, “Authorities Confirm 33 Dead in Virginia Killings.”

The killings topped Mexican newspaper Web sites all afternoon, and the Mexico City newspaper El Universal noted on its Web site that there are 590 Hispanic students at Virginia Tech.

The hat tip goes to Tony Kornheiser, who read this in the opening of his show today.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.