Foreigners say they are no longer surprised at U.S. gun violence
By Anthony Faiola and Karla Adam, Washington Post, September 17, 2013
LONDON—Jimmy Davis, a 41-year-old London disc jockey, was saddened when he heard about the latest mass shooting in the United States. But like so much of the world following Monday’s attack at the Washington Navy Yard, he was no longer shocked.
Speaking on a busy shopping street in southwest London, Davis called the United States a place where “buying guns is like buying sweets from a sweet shop. It’s no problem. So when we hear there are shootings like this in America, we are not really shocked. Know what I mean?”
That sense—of horror, but not surprise—was echoed by those around him and seemed to be prevalent around the globe after Monday’s shooting. As seen from overseas, the mass shooting, apparently by a lone gunman, appeared to be part of a new American normal, a byproduct of a treasured gun culture that largely mystifies those living beyond U.S. borders.
They are aware of the grim list of U.S. locations where recent massacres have taken place: Virginia Tech. Aurora, Colo. Fort Hood, Tex. Newtown, Conn. And now, Washington D.C. With little change in gun laws after these tragedies, many foreigners said they fully expected that other American cities and towns eventually would be added to the list.
In some quarters—like India—a shooting spree by yet another gunman in the United States failed to generate massive headlines. That stood in sharp contrast to some countries in Europe, where the news dominated front pages and, for a time, network news and Internet chatter.
The Navy Yard attack played particularly huge in Britain—a nation that strictly tightened gun control following its own mass shootings in the 1980s and 1990s. The Americans, many here argued on Tuesday, have yet to learn the lessons that have been absorbed by Britain—a nation of 63 million people, where more than 200,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition have been taken off the streets over the past 15 years. On urban streets here, offenders in search of firearms now regularly resort to rebuilt antique weapons, homemade bullets and even illicit “rent-a-gun” schemes.
"America’s gun disease diminishes its soft power," opined Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. "It makes the country seem less like a model and more like a basket case, afflicted by a pathology other nations strive to avoid. When similar gun massacres have struck elsewhere—including in Britain—lawmakers have acted swiftly to tighten controls, watching as the gun crime statistics then fell."
In Moscow, the shooting was seen through the prism of international relations and domestic politics. Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, appeared to use the incident to throw fuel on the fire of a transatlantic debate that erupted after President Vladimir Putin slammed the notion of American “exceptionalism” in a recent New York Times opinion piece.
"A new shootout at Navy headquarters in Washington—a lone gunman and 7 corpses. Nobody’s even surprised anymore. A clear confirmation of American exceptionalism," Pushkov tweeted before the official death toll had been announced.
It’s not as if Russians are unfamiliar with violence. Three police officers were killed and six others wounded in separate bombings Monday in the southern regions of Ingushetia and Chechnya. Pushkov didn’t tweet about that, but he did note Tuesday that 35 people had been killed in violence Iraq.
Elsewhere, pundits reflected on the implications of the latest attack for President Obama, and the likelihood of yet another bruising battle to curb guns in America.
"The episode arrives at a particularly difficult moment for Obama," Antonio Cano wrote in a news analysis for Spain’s El Pais. "The crisis in Syria, in which he has shown signs of indecision and weakness, has damaged his popularity. The president of is in urgent need of a triumph to win back confidence."
In Lebanon, news of the shooting spree was overshadowed by the diplomatic push for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, which has eased concerns of a U.S. military strike on Damascus and the reverberations that such a strike could caused for its smaller neighbor.
Najib Mitri, a prominent Lebanese blogger, said there was relief among Arabs that the shooter does not have a connection to the Middle East.
"What is happening in the area here is enough to tarnish our reputations already, the violence, the massacres, it’s a relief that this is not another opportunity to label us this way," Mitri said.