Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Virginia Tech shootings

So watching this whole horrible Virginia Tech school shooting massacre unfold from overseas has been strange. It's the first tragedy of its kind to occur since we moved abroad. What's notable is that here in New Zealand (and a heck of a lot of other places besides) a major theme in the coverage of it all is U.S. gun laws, which are pretty much seen as ridiculously permissive and loose by most other first-world nations' standards.

Here at the New Zealand Herald, you had headlines like "Fear behind America's love of guns." An editorial cartoon featured the Constitution's Second Amendment with a caption saying "Weapon of Mass Destruction" – I can already imagine the phone calls we'd have gotten in rural Oregon if we'd run that puppy in our paper! Kiwi and British papers (which we get a lot of our coverage from) seem less worried about being opinionated on American politics in general, and are downright slanted on things like George W. Bush. U.S. papers tend to try to please both sides on thorny issues like abortion, the war, etc. when they can. Sometimes it seems like smart nonpartisanship, but sometimes it can seem like willful pandering. (Stories about global warming that feel duty-bound to give equal weight to big oil-funded "think tank" talking heads who debunk the entire issue come to mind.)

There is a tendency to paint Americans with one broad brush in overseas media coverage – you'd think we all voted for George Bush, reading some articles criticizing him. But I have to agree, I've long thought that U.S. gun laws make no sense. I've never seen why every man and woman need access to guns like a Glock. The existing gun laws didn't help the victims at Virginia Tech or Columbine one bit. And any serious attempt to talk about whether reform is needed will be quashed now, just as it was after Columbine – one truism seems to be, you just don't mess with our guns, no matter the death toll.

It's a viewpoint I've never quite understood, and I have to admit part of me is quite glad that we live in a country now that treats guns like the weapons they are, not like an accessory to throw on your cowboy outfit.

Crazy fool killers like Cho Seung-Hui might have killed anywhere in the world, of course (and he is a 30-times damned murderer – not a "victim," as some commentators might have it. You sacrifice any claim to victimhood when you slaughter 30 innocents. I do feel for his family, though). But would Cho have been quite so murderously successful in another country? I just don't know.

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