News Column

Europeans Shocked by School Shooting, US Gun Culture

Dec. 15, 2012

Gretel Johnston

Americans yet again are pondering a shooting spree carried out by a heavily armed, deranged killer who took his rage into a school to commit a massacre.

The shooting Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook sleepy Newtown in south-western Connecticut and drew reactions from government officials from President Barack Obama down. The killer took 27 lives - including 20 innocent schoolchildren - before apparently ending his own life.

Pictures of kids filing out of the school and panicked parents rushing to find their children filled news channels in what has become a national ritual in the United States, but is not unknown to other countries as well.

The death toll Friday far surpassed the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, where two students killed 12 of their Colorado classmates and one teacher before committing suicide. That rampage shocked the nation and scarred the community outside Denver.

So many schools have been affected over the years and so many communities have been terrorized - ranking them by number of dead or by size of school seems useless.

The memories never fade, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said Friday. It was in his state in 2007 that a student killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech University in the deadliest recorded school shooting.

While the headlines that follow such senseless violence are more common in the US, many other countries - from Finland to Brazil, Japan to Germany - have suffered similar horrors. Earlier Friday, a man with a knife wounded 22 children and one adult outside a school in the central Chinese province of Henan.

The carnage in Newtown will be remembered for taking place 11 days before Christmas and targeting a roomful of 5-year-olds at an elementary school. "Not even kindergarteners learning their ABCs are safe," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decried.

Obama wiped tears from his eyes and paused repeatedly to regain his composure as he said that he and his wife, Michelle, would hug their two daughters a little tighter Friday evening: "There are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight."

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said a community "can never be prepared for this kind of incident."

Mass shootings in the US inevitably reopen the debate over gun control, especially with Friday towering casualties. Gun control activists gathered at dusk at the White House to demand tougher firearms laws.

From the other side of the debate, comment focused not on the guns but the people pulling triggers. Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said that lawmakers should be careful about suggesting new gun laws.

"We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we're enforcing the laws that are currently on the books," she told the Washington Post.

Its unclear that the public has the will to make changes. The Pew Research Centre, a Washington-based polling agency, said Friday that recent mass shootings have had little impact on attitudes toward guns.

Pew said when Americans were surveyed after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Colorado, 47 per cent said controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting the US constitutional right to own guns, while 46 per cent took the opposite position.

Author Gregory Gibson, who lost his son in a school shooting 10 years ago in Massachusetts, wrote Friday in a New York Times blog that after years of attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, he gave up on fighting for change in US gun laws.

"I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be," Gibson said. "We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it."

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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