The World From Berlin: Americans Will Never Let Go Of Their Guns

Two days after the Blacksburg massacre, media commentators in Germany say that however absurd America's lax gun laws may seem in Europe, they are a fact of life in the US and won't change.

A billboard advertises the Roanoke Firearms, the shop where Cho Seung-Hui bought a Glock 19 handgun 36 days before going on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead.
AFP

A billboard advertises the Roanoke Firearms, the shop where Cho Seung-Hui bought a Glock 19 handgun 36 days before going on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead.

Why bother arguing about America's gun laws if there's no chance they will be changed? Owning guns is not just a constitutional right, it's part of America's identity and heritage, say German newspaper commentators. No serious presidential candidate would campaign on a crackdown on gun ownership.

Besides, attributing Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg by a lonely, hate-filled South Korean-born student to the ease with which he got hold of two pistols is simplistic, say some commentators.

There are all kinds of reasons that drive someone to commit mass murder. Germany, which has strict gun laws, suffered its own school massacre in the eastern city of Erfurt in 2002 in which 18 people died including the 19-year-old shooter, former pupil Robert Steinhäuser, who was armed with a pump-action shotgun and a 9mm semi-automatic Glock similar to the one used by Blacksburg killer Cho Seung-Hui.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The shooting rampage is basically an extreme form of suicide in which a self-destructive craze is turned outwards."

"One can't completely deny the influence of factors such as video games and lax gun laws. Researchers at Iowa State University found that young people who like to play violent video games are more aggressive and have more criminal energy. But what no study has ever been able to prove is the sequence of causes. Do games trigger violence or are they simply poison for souls who already have a propensity to commit violence?"

"Of course the constant use of video games can damage a weak psyche. And it's a perfectly logical conclusion that lax laws like those in Virginia make it far easier to get at an arsenal of weapons. But clinical disorders, the psychological and social development of the shooter and factors like a loss of self-worth or the end of a relationship also play a role in shooting rampages."

"When an institution that is meant to prepare one's children for life turns into a death trap, there's no such thing as security any more. Simple explanations in such a context are just cynical populism."

"It makes no difference whether it's the know-it-all attitude of European television presenters or Austrialian Prime Minister John Howard who urged America on the day of the tragedy to change its laws; or the hurried defense of gun ownership rights by President George Bush and his potential successor John McCain. Such contributions are like corn plaster on plague boils. There are no simple explanations for a complex pathology like that of a mass murderer. Only intensive research into suicides can unravel the web of factors that trigger such a tragedy."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"Mass murder is possible in seconds. Killer games rid players of all restraint, television conveys the pictures to the next killer. The assault rifle turns anger into rapid action."

"Is that America's curse? In some American states, guns are largely banned, in others they're largely permitted. There are urgent and justified calls for legislation to limit gun ownership. In the USA, 80 people die from gun shot wounds each day, in Britain it's around 200 a year. But the Erfurt school, was that in America? Man is a wolf to other men -- the Ancients said."

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes that the right to bear arms is firmly cemented in the minds of Americans:

"It's part of American postmortem ritual to first mourn what has happened and then in the very next sentence to insist on the right of every American citizen to own his own gun. That is how it is enshrined in the Constitution, says the National Rifle Association, the gun lovers' lobby. Which means it's set in stone."

"But wasn't the nation ready after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to do all in its power to prevent future attacks? It may be unfair to put the two events together. But the civil liberties that are supposed to protect every US citzen from state persecution and snooping are enshrined in the Constitution. In 2001 the country quickly agreed to suspend them temporarily -- and perhaps permanently -- in the fight against terrorism."

"The Blacksburg shooting is another wake-up call to American society to finally rid itself of outdated paradigms. If it doesn't it will have to learn to live with such massacres in future. There will always be homicidal maniacs. But one could make it more difficult for them to take action."

Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Supporters of a right to bear arms like to refer to the Second Amendment of the Constitution and to history. Non-Americans find it hard to understand a mythology believed in by millions of Americans and nurtured by powerful political forces. Especially after an event like Monday's rampage it seems like immoral absurdity. But could this deed have been prevented if access to guns had been more difficult? After all, Erfurt is not in Virginia."

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Non-Americans might find it crazy but the fundamental right of citizens to own guns has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1791. It mirrors America's fundamental mistrust of government but also the need for self-protection in remote areas."

"The only flexibility is in the detail of state laws on purchasing and bearing guns. Virginia's laws for example are regarded as lax, but according to the ranking of an anti-gun lobby group they are among the most restrictive third of all US states. Besides, on the campus where the shooter rampaged, guns were prohibited."

"Two out of five US households today own a firearm. As long as the gun laws in rural states remain as lax as they are now for plausible reasons, it will be easy to circumvent the bans that have already existed in cities for a long time. Even a Democratic presidential candidate cannot afford to stir up voter opposition in the South and West with a call for new legislation. In any case, he or she wouldn't have the power to implement such laws."

-- David Crossland, 2:30 p.m. CET

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