While U.S. outlets are hung up on political rhetoric, international media cut to the gun debate
While the shootings in Tucson continue to inflame the debate over violent rhetoric in American politics, the international media’s reaction to the tragedy is largely focused on alleged killer Jared Lee Loughner’s weapon of choice: a gun.
In doing so, it's gotten to the debate over gun laws faster than a U.S. media hung up on the politics.
"This guy was a nutjob. What he did was sick and evil," a Tucson gunshop owner told Agence France-Press in a piece entitled, “Shooting Tests U.S. West Love Affair with Guns.” "But the congresswoman he shot owns the same gun."
"This is America," he added. “People love to shoot.”
“As [Gabrielle Giffords] lies in critical condition,” AFP's Shaun Tandon wrote, “some are publicly questioning the gun-slinging culture of the American West where weapons at restaurants do not cause a second glance and opposition to guns is considered political suicide.”
Region-by-region highlights from the international media’s coverage:
“What is it with guns and America,” Ed Pilkington asked in London’s Guardian. “Why does the most advanced democracy, which prides itself on being a bastion of reason and civilization in a brutal and ugly world, put up with this carnage in its own back yard? Why does it tolerate the sea of blood that flows from gun incidents, with about 100,000 people killed or injured every year? Why does it accept an annual murder rate by guns that is 13 times that of Germany and 44 times that of England and Wales? …
"Every time a gun massacre happens in America, the pattern seems to be the same: initial bewilderment is followed by outrage, calls are made for a renewed look at the country's almost uniquely loose gun laws, and then … nothing.”
The Guardian noted that the gun Loughner used was the same one "that Seung-Hui Cho deployed when he went on his rampage through Virginia Tech on in April 2007, massacring 32 people."
“The gun that 22-year-old Loughner reportedly used in his killing spree was a Glock 19 — a semiautomatic handgun that is incredibly easy to fire several times quickly,” Heather Maher reported on Radio Free Europe. “Loughner purchased the gun legally in November after passing a background check. Guns like Glocks were illegal a few years ago under an assault-weapons ban signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.”
As for Clinton, he spoke to the BBC about the tragedy but warned international media not to “demonize” U.S. political discourse over the shootings. "No one intends to do anything that encourages this sort of behavior, and I think it is wrong for anyone to suggest that," Clinton told the BBC, though he failed to actually address the gun issue.
The Economist focused on the debate over words rather than guns but eventually came to why the U.S. media debate largely hasn’t shifted: the gun lobby: "It is testimony to the strength of America’s gun lobby (and another constitutional safeguard) that there has been little talk of any measures to curb gun ownership as a result of the incident."
“The United States has had to deal with far more of these shootings than most developed nations,” the Montreal Gazette wrote in an editorial. “The U.S. is awash in guns, with few regulations on gun ownership, use or storage. American civilians have 89 guns per 100 population, nearly double the number in Switzerland, whose army consists of an armed civilian militia. Canadians own 31 guns per 100 civilians.
“Any discussion of gun control in the U.S. is usually cast in the unhelpful rhetoric of the constitutional right of an individual to bear arms vs. government interference,” the editorial continued. “Little room is left to look at gun control as a public-health issue. Yet this approach would put much-needed focus on the cost in human life and suffering that a loosely regulated gun industry has imposed on U.S. society.”
To be sure, the world has picked up on the U.S. debate over political rhetoric, too — and the American media’s role in it.
“For some time now, the very core of the U.S. culture has been located at that place where politics and media meet,” John Doyle wrote in a Globe & Mail editorial. “And where they meet is the all-news cable TV channel. As the news of the shootings sank in on Saturday, there was a numbness to the TV coverage – the reporting of the plain facts of what happened.
"Then the story evolved into something else. That happened as soon MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann took to the air to allege that Sarah Palin played a significant role in raising the volume of vitriol in the U.S. and to blame Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck of Fox News for the level of extremism in partisan political argument. As a result, this story is about television and its impact.”
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND
“We might ponder how easily the suspect became one of the 40 per cent plus of Americans who own a firearm,” Rod Tiffen wrote in the Sidney Morning Herald. “There is a strong correlation between the number of guns in a society and deaths resulting from them.”
“Although we should not leap to simple explanations, it is surely not a coincidence that the U.S. has a homicide rate (6 per 100,000 population in 2004) more than four times higher than Australia's (1.3) and 12 times higher than in Britain and Japan (0.5).”
A New Zealand editorial strung both the political and gun culture debates together rather beautifully: "The Tucson shooting, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, is another tragic commentary on the poisonous political climate that has developed in the United States, allied to the country's pervasive gun culture."
"New Zealanders can be thankful that their politics have not degenerated to the American level," it added. "The political environment here can be robust but without the vituperation witnessed recently in the U.S .or the violence which has punctuated its history. Also fortunate is that New Zealand has not developed the sort of unhealthy and dangerous gun culture which is the Achilles heel of American society.
And in another editorial, the Herald concluded: "Time to Holster U.S. Gun Laws."
While the U.S. gun debate has dominated the international media's coverage of the shootings in Arizona, it wasn't the only angle for global pundits.
Sarah Palin's role in creating an environment for toxic political discourse was dismissed in Germany's Der Spiegel. "Following this weekend's tragic shooting, many on the left in the United States are calling for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to be called to account for their alleged culpability in the killings," Marc Hujer wrote. "But these claims are spurious and could do more to help the left's political detractors than harm them."
In the China Post, an editorial argued for more security for politicians: "It is understandable that under the trend of 'getting close to people,' modern politicians are often shunning their entourage of security details, the sight of which could be ungainly to the public. However, the heavy damage political assassinations can do to the victims personally and to the country generally make increased protection necessary."
And in the Jerusalem Post, an oddly-timed editorial ("Learning Judaism from Giffords") praised the congresswoman as a "Jewish role model":
As we join in praying for the speedy and complete recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, we cannot help but note how splendidly the Democratic congresswoman from Arizona has served — and, we are hopeful, will continue to serve — as a Jewish role model.
It was her “sense of the Jewish value around how we treat the stranger” that informed Giffords on the highly divisive issue of rights for undocumented immigrants in her border state, according to Josh Protas, former director of the Tusconarea Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, she did not lose sight of her constituents’ security concerns over the unchecked influx of illegal aliens.