September 17, 2013

World reacts: Shooting sad but not surprising

Response is particularly strong in Britain, which tightened gun controls after a mass shooting.

By ANTHONY FAIOLA and KARLA ADAM The Washington Post

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 much of the world after the attack Monday at Washington's Navy Yard, he was no longer shocked.

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From L-R: Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert arrive at a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, honoring the victims of an attack at the Navy Yard, at the Navy Memorial in Washington, September 17, 2013. Washington authorities questioned on Tuesday how a U.S. military veteran with a history of violence and mental problems could have gotten clearance to enter a Navy base where he killed 12 people before police shot him dead. (REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

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The United States is a place where "buying guns is like buying sweets from a sweet shop — it's no problem," Davis said Tuesday on a busy shopping street in southwest London. "So when we hear there are shootings like this in America, we are not really shocked. Know what I mean?"

That reaction — of horror but not surprise — was echoed by bystanders and in other places around the world following the deadly attack. As seen from abroad, the mass shooting, apparently by a lone gunman, appeared part of a new American normal, a byproduct of a treasured gun culture that largely mystifies those living beyond U.S. borders.

Foreigners are aware of the grim list of the sites of recent U.S. massacres: Virginia Tech; Fort Hood, Texas; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; Newtown, Conn. — and now, Washington. And with gun laws little changed after the earlier killings, many said they fully expect the list to grow.

In China, people commenting on Weibo, a local version of Twitter, reiterated the widespread international view of U.S. gun laws as quixotic and potentially lethal.

"It's time [for the U.S.] to control guns," posted one user.

"It's a cost of having no gun control!" posted another.

In some quarters, such as India, the shooting spree by yet another gunman in the United States failed to generate big headlines. In some European countries, by contrast, the news dominated front pages and, for a time, TV networks and Internet chatter.

The Navy Yard attack sparked a particularly strong response in Britain, which strictly tightened gun-control measures after its own mass shootings in the 1980s and '90s. Americans, many here argued Tuesday, have yet to learn the lessons that have been absorbed by this nation of 63 million, where more than 200,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition have been taken off the streets over the past 15 years. In urban areas, 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 it to fan the flames of a transatlantic debate that ignited 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 of 13 (including the shooter) had been announced.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow tweeted in response: "What's exceptionalism got to do with it? Why use a tragedy to score political points?"

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 in Iraq.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary William Hague offered condolences to relatives and friends of the victims, while Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "Tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones."

Elsewhere, pundits reflected on the implications of the latest attack for President Barack Obama, and the likelihood of yet another bruising battle over curbing 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 is in urgent need of a triumph to win back confidence."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Obama on behalf of the Israeli people expressing "heartfelt condolences" and describing the attack as a "heinous crime."

The shooting was not big news in Israel, where armed security guards on school trips and soldiers with rifles commuting on city buses are common sights. In May, when a man shot dead four people at a bank, then turned the gun on himself, Israeli media labeled the shooter "an American-style lone gunman."

In Lebanon, news of the killings 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 possible ramifications of such a strike for its smaller neighbor.

Najib Mitri, a prominent Lebanese blogger, said there was relief among Arabs that the shooter did 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," he said.

While Lebanon is no stranger to gun violence, plagued by corruption and groups that have not disarmed since the Lebanese civil war, the fact that a country like the United States was unable to prevent a gunman from breaching security at a naval base was unsettling, Mitri he said. He predicted a bolstered sense of national unity in the aftermath of the killings — something he said happened in Lebanon after recent bombings in southern Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli.

"The more you have weapons, the more you have crime," Mitri said. "When something like this happens in your country, you stop looking at the political picture, and all that matters is that it needs to be stopped."

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