The World from Berlin: 'Republicans and Gun Lobby Complicit' in Newtown
America is in a state of shock following Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Many in the country have begun calling for new weapons laws and even President Barack Obama seems open to finally challenging the country's powerful gun lobby. It's about time, say German commentators.
"We can't tolerate this anymore," US President Barack Obama said on Sunday. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."
Obama was speaking in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults had been slaughtered just days before in an elementary school. The perpetrator, Adam Lanza, had killed his mother before embarking on his murderous mission -- and turned his gun on himself at the end. It was one of the most horrifying of the growing list of US school shootings, one which has triggered grief across the United States and around the globe.
The president offered no specifics. But even as White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to slow down the gun control debate that erupted in the immediate wake of the shooting -- "Today is not the day to engage in the usual Washington policy debates," Carney said on Friday evening -- that discussion raged through the weekend in the US. And Obama will soon have to define precisely what "change" means.
Evidence from the investigation announced on Sunday promises to fuel that debate. Lanza, it has emerged, was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition with him, with several unused clips found next to him. "There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips," said state police official Paul Vance. The clips were for the Bushmaster AR-15 he used for his killing spree. The AR-15, for the uninitiated, is a high-powered semi-automatic weapon that would not be misplaced on the battlefields of Afghanistan. It is, essentially, a semi-automatic version of the M16 used by the US military.
'Made to Kill'
Lanza also had with him a Glock 10mm and a Sig Sauer 9mm, both of them high-powered handguns with the latter being used by militaries around the world. Lanza apparently deemed the shotgun left behind in his car during the assault not powerful enough for the job at hand. The weapons were owned by Lanza's mother and all were acquired legally.
His collection of weaponry, of course, is not all that different from the firearms used in previous school shootings in the US. In the past, however, initial outrage has quickly dissipated and America's powerful weapons lobby was able to successfully ward off attempts to reduce the numbers of military weapons in the hands of the country's civilians.
It remains to be seen whether things will be different this time around. Commentators across the US are demanding action and the level of national grief, perhaps because of the age of the victims, appears to be more intense. Congressional Democrats have vowed to introduce legislation as soon as this week.
Even in Germany, lawmakers have begun reflecting on their own country's gun control laws, though they are far stricter than those in the US. Cem Özdemir, co-head of the Green Party, told the Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung that weapons should not be allowed in private homes. "The terrible massacre of small children in Connecticut provides heart-breaking proof of just how easy it is for criminals to kill when weapons are stored at home," he said. "Even if the German weapons lobby says differently, guns are made to kill. They aren't some harmless piece of sporting equipment or toys. They shouldn't be in our homes and apartments."
German commentators on Monday largely agree.
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Beyond the individual state of the killer, the US has a national pathology. The legality of gun ownership is a matter of course in the US, more so than anywhere else in the world. In 2012, some 270 million firearms were in private ownership. Every year, (thousands of) people are killed with them. In most states it's easier to get a firearm than a driver's license."
"This madness can only -- if at all -- be stopped in moments like this one. Against the tragic backdrop of 20 murdered children. And of a president like Barack Obama who has just won an election. The right wing has been pushed back a little, the public is appalled by the massacre."
"He must make gun control a personal political priority -- and ignore the lobbyists. As a first step, background checks for all gun buyers must be introduced and the sale and ownership of automatic weapons must be banned. Secondly there should be a fundamental debate about weapons ownership. After Newtown, both are moral imperatives."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"President Obama's 'never again' are little more than plaintive words. He's trying to provide comfort, but he certainly isn't promising any improvement. During Obama's first term, more than 40,000 of his compatriots died in a hail of bullets. One out of 10 of these victims was under the age of 18. He never even had the courage to at least come up with stronger laws to take some of the deadliest weapons out of the hands of civilians. Viewed in political terms, that is at least equivalent to the crime of failing to assist a person in danger. Obama points to the constitutionally protected right for US citizens to possess weapons. In reality, however, he is wary of a battle with the Republicans and the gun lobby. Their opposition to almost any kind of gun control borders on political complicity in murder and manslaughter."
"Sure, no ban can stop every murder. Despite strict regulations, Germany also had to endure the massacres at Erfurt (2002, 16 victims) and Winnenden (2009, 15 victims). Still, there is no place in Western Europe where violence from gun barrels rampages in the way it does in the United States. The statistical probability that a person will be killed by a firearm is 16 times greater in the US than Germany. Why? Because Washington policies offer greater protection for the ownership of paramilitary weapons and semi-automatic pistols -- of the type used by the perpetrator in Newtown to kill 27 people as well as himself -- than they do for the lives of innocent children. Because weapons dealers are able to sell mega-magazines with up to 100 bullets in them. Because all you really need to buy a gun is a driver's license. The obligatory 'background check' is pure farce, with officials giving the green light for 99 out of 100 applications."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama wants to make a new attempt to convince his people -- it's by no means just the 'gun lobby' -- of the necessity of at least accepting stricter controls and provisions. The modest disarmament initiative he came up with during his first term didn't get very far. But now he doesn't have to worry about re-election. And the Republicans too, like all Americans, must ask themselves what's more important: the right to bear arms, or schools and universities that aren't plagued by the fear of death. A massacre of children at Christmas isn't part of the American dream."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The right of citizens to own weapons for self defense is not just an almost sacred tradition, it is also understandable in a country of such vast expanse. A visit to remote areas of New Mexico or Wyoming, where the sheriff might need hours to get to a far-off farm, provides some perspective. One-size-fits-all solutions, such as a simple ban on weapons, wouldn't work."
"Still, Washington and the rest of the US must take advantage of the leeway they now have. A country-wide weapons registry would make sense. Waiting periods before the purchase of weapons, during which time background checks can be performed on the buyer, could at least cut down on spontaneous acts of violence. The current case, however, shows that no law is a guarantee. ... The murderer was able to take advantage of his mother's semi-automatic weapons, which she purchased legally. Which is why at least a ban on semi-automatic weapons, such as the one that existed during the administration of Bill Clinton, makes sense."
"Mass shootings will not disappear. But if the number of shooting victims were to be reduced by a couple of thousand from the current annual total, much will have been achieved."
The Stuttgarter Zeitung, located near Winnenden where 15 people lost their lives in a 2009 school shooting, writes:
"This massacre, as difficult as it is to comprehend, is not a stroke of fate; it is not comparable to a natural catastrophe. ... The bloody crime was made easier by conditions that can very much be influenced by people. How can it be possible that an immature young man, perhaps one with a personality disorder, has access to an assault weapon? In a civilized country, such weapons and the amounts of ammunition used in the attack need to be locked away."
"Nowhere else in the world are so many weapons in circulation as in the US. In no other country are citizens as well armed. The US Constitution guarantees every American the right to move about in public as though he or she is John Wayne in person. One can see it as a national tradition. But this martial approach to liberty is also a relict of the past and one that is out of step with the times. Every 20 minutes, a US citizen is murdered by a firearm. American schoolchildren are killed by bullets 10 times more often than in comparable industrialized countries. Such numbers speak for themselves."
"It is impossible to prevent mass shootings. We in Germany have seen that from the examples of Erfurt and Winnenden. Weapon ownership laws have long been much stricter in Germany than they are in the US, and such crimes have nonetheless been committed here too. Even the new national weapons registry, which is currently being prepared, won't offer 100 percent protection. Yet it is also clear that it is possible to significantly reduce the danger of such attacks. Where weapons are not part of everyday life, the risk of such a monstrous event such as that in Newtown is significantly reduced."
-- Charles Hawley
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