TCS Daily


'Only in America'? Gunning Down a Claim

By Steve Stanek - April 20, 2007 12:00 AM

In response to the horrible mass shooting at Virginia Tech on Monday, overseas leaders as well as many Americans have condemned the "gun culture" of the United States. Perhaps these overseas leaders and American citizens would be less hard on our country if we discuss what has been happening in other countries.

Major news outlets reported on April 18 about the shooting deaths of at least 19 gang members in Rio de Janeiro by rival gangs and police. These shootouts occurred despite Brazil's strict gun control laws.

Also in Wednesday's newspapers are reports about Tuesday's shooting death of the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan. Japan has some of the strictest anti-gun laws in the industrialized world.

In Scotland authorities are enacting knife control policies because violent crime has continued to climb (with knives as a weapon of choice) in the wake of the nation's gun bans. Should Americans speak contemptuously of Scotland's "blade and booze" culture?

Last November in Emsdetten, Germany, a teenager shot and wounded more than a dozen persons before killing himself. In 2002 in a school in Erfurt, Germany, a gunman killed 17 people and himself.

Five years ago I did research for an article on mass shootings. Here are a few of the headlines I came across:

"8 slain at council meeting"

"Teen wounds 5 in tech school"

"Suspected gang shooting leaves 4 dead, 2 injured"

"Man kills ex-bosses, principal, himself"

"Gunman kills self, 7 others"

The incidents these headlines describe occurred in France, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany and Italy, respectively. In the five years since that research, crime rates have continued to climb in many other countries with far stricter gun control laws than those in the United States.

In 1996 in Port Arthur, Australia, a crazed man shot and killed more than 30 people. After learning of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters this about his nation's response to the Port Arthur horror: "We took action to limit the availability of guns and we showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country."

Prime Minister Howard neglected to say anything about the "culture" in Australia that prompted a man to commit a mass shooting. He also neglected to mention Australian government figures that show five years after the Port Arthur-inspired gun crackdowns, homicides had climbed 3.2 percent, assaults had gone up 8.6 percent, and, astoundingly, armed robberies had soared 45 percent. Crime rates remain high in Australia despite the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of firearms, and gun bans.

On September 28, 2001, in peaceful Switzerland, a man shot and killed 14 people, including 11 members of a local canton council.

In the 2002 presidential election in France, many political observers cited soaring crime as the Number 1 issue. Nationwide strikes by thousands of France's police officers a few months before the election heightened the issue. The strikes came in response to what police said are growing dangers from gun-wielding criminals. They had strong evidence to cite, including the recent shooting deaths of two police officers during an armed robbery in a Paris suburb.

I've heard people say "only in America" in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. Clearly, though, it's not only in America. Terrible incidents like these have occurred and are occurring in countries across the world, including countries that severely restrict or ban the private ownership of firearms, and countries with a reputation of peace and harmony.

Steve Stanek is a freelance writer and editor in McHenry, Ill., and research fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.

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