DAVID COMMON: DIARY
Europe reacts to Virginia shooting
Americans respond to European editorials about U.S. shooting
April 18, 2007
Charlton Heston may be 86, infirm and confined to his Beverly Hills home but he is responsible for the Virginia Tech shootings that left so many dead.
Or so you might have thought tuning in to German cable news broadcaster NTV. In its coverage of the rampage, the network began with an image of Heston, the former long-time head of the U.S. National Rifle Association.
Theirs was perhaps the most direct of all of Europe's commentaries on just what caused the massacre of students and teachers. And the verdict widely, in European newspapers and society, is America's apparent lack of any gun control.
France's Le Figaro wrote in its editorial pages, American politicians "share responsibility," slamming the 2004 Republican-controlled Congress for preventing "a law that prohibited the sale of semi-automatic and military weapons." It added, "While most states have issued laws designed to control the sale of arms, the NRA ensures they remain inefficient or are not applied."
In Spain, the popular El Pais wrote:
"The president of Virginia Tech called it a tragedy of monumental proportions. But similar comments could already be heard following previous tragedies of this kind. The shooting spree at the Columbine high school in Colorado, for instance, revived the debate on the necessity of better controlling access to weapons. This led to some laws being toughened and security at schools being improved. But the measures are decided by the individual states and are constantly side-stepped by means of an exaggerated interpretation of the U.S. constitution."
Nor was this response limited to newspapers. While most European leaders were expressing their sorrow over the events, in Britain, the Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the shootings should prompt a "serious and reflective debate on gun issues." McNulty not only lived in the U.S. but also earned his Masters degree from Virginia Tech.
In Italy, editorial writers appealed for Americans to realize the way forward (in their view) was gun control. They also acknowledged that the spread and popularity of violent video games might have had an effect.
Some of the fiercest criticism came from Germany, with the German daily Bild noting that "buying a submachine gun is often easier than getting a driver's licence." (Virginia does, in fact, have one of the loosest gun control laws in the country). But Bild took a step back and looked inwards:
"Despite strict gun legislation, we (in Germany) have experienced school shootings in Erfurt and Emsdetten. We have to consider the problems in our society. And we have to take care of our fellow human beings."
The articles ran on Tuesday morning and so, predictably, within hours responses (or counter-attacks) started pouring in from North America.
The influential conservative National Review:
"Der Speigel [a German publication] has a round-up of knee-jerk Euro-drivel, not including its own - most of it created by journalists who don't know (or didn't care) that the Virginia Tech campus had already been disarmed by gun control."
Presumably, this is a reference to the campus-wide ban on weapons of any kind. Many Americans said this recent weapons ban might have contributed to the scale of assault.
"The real problem is that none of these students of teachers had a personal weapon…they could have stopped this guy before 30 people were dead." —Rick Geiger; Rochester, New York
"…gun control laws put law abiding citizens at the mercy of criminals." —Alan Scholl, John Birch Society
"Guns have been easily available for 200 years in this country, yet the gun violence on the streets and in schools is a relatively new phenomenon. I've always wondered why the gun is blamed and not the perpetrator." —Janet Fuls, Cottonwood, California
Of course, many Americans said now is not the time to debate the country's gun control laws. (Right or not, they aren't being debated. Neither now, nor before Virginia Tech).
And besides, some continued, we saved you in the Second World War so be quiet.
"When London and Madrid suffered, we Americans grieved along with those nations. When all the world struggled to survive against dictators, who saved everyone? Oh, it was the Americans. How do we get paid? By this constant drumbeat of hate." —Marilyn Hannahs, Corrales, New Mexico
Jeff Patterson wrote to der Spiegel: "The primary gun used in this situation was a Glock from Austria. If I were to apply the European rule set, then Europe is to blame for this shooting."
If this logic were correct, Charlton Heston may be well advised to march to his state capital and speak with the Governor, Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mind you, he too has called for increased gun control.
Diverging opinions at a time of tension have divided many Americans from many Europeans, the war of words re-ignited by the ashes of a tragedy.