IMAGES OF A tearful President Barack Obama speaking after a shooting rampage in Connecticut resonated around the world, with many outside the United States expressing hope Saturday that America’s latest school massacre would prompt the country to strengthen gun control.
Shock and sympathy were the initial reactions to the rampage that left 28 people dead, including 20 children at an elementary school. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the attack as a “senseless and incomprehensible act of evil.”
“Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken,” Gillard said in a statement, referring to the US leader’s emotional expression of condolence.
The gunman killed his mother at their home before opening fire Friday inside the school in Newtown, Connecticut, where he killed 26 people, including 20 children, police said. The killer, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, then committed suicide.
Australia confronted a similar tragedy in 1996, when a man went on a shooting spree in the southern state of Tasmania, killing 35 people. The mass killing sparked outrage across the country and led the government to impose strict new gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles.
Initial official reaction at the national level did not touch on perceptions of the United States as a violent society, or its generally lax gun laws. On social media sites such as Twitter and in mainstream media outlets, however, there were plenty of comments about the causes of such incidents.
The attack quickly dominated public discussion in China, rocketing to the top of topic lists on social media and becoming the top story on state television’s main noon newscast.
China has seen several rampage attacks at schools in recent years, though the attackers there usually use knives. The most recent attack happened Friday, when a knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China.
Much of the discussion after the Connecticut rampage centered on the easy access to guns in America, unlike in China, where even knives are sometimes banned from sale. But with more than 100,000 Chinese studying in U.S. schools, a sense of shared grief came through.
“Parents with children studying in the U.S. must be tense. School shootings happen often in the U.S. Really, can’t politicians put away politics and prohibit gun sales?” Zhang Xin, a wealthy property developer, wrote on her feed on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service, where she has 4.9 million followers. “There will always be mental patients among us. They should not be given guns.”
In India, Kiran Bedi, a retired pioneering policewoman who is now a major anti-corruption activist, expressed her concerns, tweeting in the shorthand style familiar to users of text services that: “Firearms in hands of unbalanced r security threat! Gun/even Driving license issue needs due diligence! They r responsibility before a right!”
Some in South Korea, whose government does not allow people to possess guns privately, blamed a lack of gun control in the United States for the high number of deaths in the Connecticut shooting. Most people on the Internet expressed utter shock at the scale of the tragedy, many of them calling it frightful and unimaginable and expressing condolences to the families of the victims.
Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s top daily, speculated in an online report that it appears “inevitable” that the shooting will prompt the U.S. government to consider tighter gun control.
In Thailand, which has one of Asia’s highest rates of murder by firearms and has seen schools attacked by Islamist insurgents in its southern provinces, a columnist for the English-language daily newspaper The Nation blamed American culture for fostering a climate of violence.
“Repeated incidents of gunmen killing innocent people have shocked the Americans or us but also made most people ignore it quickly,” Thanong Khanthong wrote on Twitter. “Because each Hollywood movie, namely Batman and Spiderman, have hidden the message of violence and brutal killings.”
Violence as ‘normal and acceptable’
“Intentionally or not, Hollywood and video games have prepared people’s mind to see killings and violence as normal and acceptable,” he wrote.
In Japan, where guns are severely restricted and there are extremely few gun-related crimes, public broadcaster NHK led the noon news Saturday with the shooting, putting it ahead of an update on the final day of campaigning before Sunday’s nationwide parliamentary elections.
NHK, which had a reporter giving a live broadcast from the scene, said that five of the children at the school were Japanese, and that all five were safe. Its report could not immediately be independently confirmed.
Several Japanese broadcasters ran footage from Newtown, showing scenes of people singing outside churches Friday evening, as well as part of Obama’s tearful press conference.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda sent a condolence message to Obama. “We express our condolences to the families of the victims,” he said. “The sympathy of the Japanese people is with the American people.”
In the Philippines, a society often afflicted by gun violence, President Benigno Aquino III said he and the Filipino people stand beside the United States “with bowed heads, yet in deep admiration over the manner in which the American people have reached out to comfort the afflicted, and to search for answers that will give meaning and hope to this grim event.
“We pray for healing, and that this heartbreak will never be visited on any community ever again,” Aquino said in a statement tweeted by deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte.