U.S. News

Massacre sparks foreign criticism of U.S. gun culture

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Foreign politicians and media attacked America’s “gun culture” on Tuesday after a gunman killed 32 people in the country’s worst shooting rampage.

Prime Minister John Howard said tough Australian legislation introduced after a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996 had prevented the U.S. gun culture emerging in his country.

The Australians subsequently imposed laws banning almost all types of semi-automatic weapons.

“We showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country,” said Howard, extending sympathies to the families of the victims at Virginia Tech university.

The attacker killed himself in a classroom after opening fire on students and staff in an apparently premeditated massacre on Monday morning.

The gunman was an Asian male who was a student at the university and a dormitory resident, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger told CNN. His name was not released.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed their sympathies. Iran, at loggerheads with the United States over its nuclear program, spoke out against the killings.

“Iran condemns the killing of Virginia university students and expresses its condolences to the families of victims and the American nation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a statement, which was faxed to Reuters.


European newspapers saw a grim inevitability about the shootings, given the right to bear arms which is enshrined in America’s constitution. In Italy, the Leftist Il Manifesto newspaper said the shooting was “as American as apple pie”.

More than 30,000 people die from gunshot wounds in the United States annually and there are more guns in private hands than in any other country. But a powerful gun lobby and support for gun ownership have largely thwarted attempts to tighten controls.

“It would be vain to hope that even so destructive a crime as this will cool the American ardor for guns,” the Independent newspaper said in a commentary.

Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times newspaper, feared worse was yet to come: “The truth is that only an optimist would imagine Virginia Tech will hold the new record for very long.”

France’s Le Monde newspaper said such episodes frequently disfigure the “American dream”.

“The ... slaughter forces American society to once again examine itself, its violence, the obsession with guns of part of its population, the troubles of its youth, subjected to the double tyranny of abundance and competition,” it wrote.

Campaigners in other countries where gun ownership is common expressed fears of a similar massacre.

Nandy Pacheco, head of the Philippines anti-gun lobby, Gunless Society, said he feared it could happen there.

“Not a day passes without a gun-related incident happening (in the Philippines). You hear it on radio, see it on TV and read it in newspapers,” he said.

Gun ownership is commonplace in the Philippines, from housewives worried about burglary to politicians fearful of assassination. There are around 1.1 million guns, and police estimate that around 30 percent of them are unlicensed.

Shootings over trivial incidents are commonplace. A few years ago several fatal karaoke bar shootouts were sparked by poor renditions of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.

Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris, Phil Stewart in Rome and Kate Kelland and Parisa Hafezi in London