A month after the Newtown massacre, people around the world are remembering the victims and attempting to understand the mass killing. Having recently returned from a research trip to Europe, I thought that an examination of European perceptions of the Newtown massacre could be useful at this point.
The Newtown massacre in December 2012 horrified, but fascinated European audiences. The mass killing confirmed European stereotypes about American society as a particularly violent one. European media follow news from the United States closely and routinely report on major developments in American politics and society, but this story seems to have particularly touched a nerve in European audiences. A month after the shooting rampage, European media continue to report on the killings and the ensuing debate in the United States over gun control.
European reporting on the massacre has often focused on a supposedly violent American character, inversing the triumphalist claims of American exceptionalism. A particularly American culture of violence, including seemingly unlimited acceptance of guns, seems responsible for the Newtown massacre in much of the European press. A Repubblica article discusses the culture of violence. American gun violence is typically characterized as irrational and American attitudes on guns are often presented as insane. Le Monde ran a story on “L’Amérique face à sa folie des armes” after the Newtown massacre.
The sheer number of mass killings and shooting rampages in the United States shocks European journalists and audiences. An article in Libération seeks to explain mass killings to French readers. Of course, there have been mass killings in Europe in recent memory, such as the Cumbria mass shooting in Britain, the horrifying Utoya massacre in Norway in 2011, the shooting spree in southern France in March 2012. Few European publications seem to have focused on comparisons between the Newtown massacre and these mass shooting incidents, however.
European media have reported extensively on the numerous shooting sprees and would-be rampages across the United States in the past month since the Newtown massacre, including the assassination of firefighters in New York state, the multiple murders in Aurora, and the killings in rural Pennsylvania. Repubblica reported on a teenager who took a gun to school in Utah and on a shooting in Las Vegas. Le Monde highlighted the differences between the mass shooting in Newtown and the nearly contemporaneous mass stabbing of children in China, where no victims were killed.
The proliferation of firearms figures prominently in European reporting on violence in America. A Le Monde article focuses on the diffusion of arms in the United States and a BBC story provides detailed statistics on arms ownership and gun violence. Libération reports polls showing that a majority of Americans favor curbing arms proliferation through gun control measures. Numerous stories have discussed the growth in arms sales since President Obama’s election, and especially following the Newtown massacre. Many of these stories have stressed the booming business at gun shows, as in a Le Monde story entitled, “Ambiance familiale et frénésie d’achat au « gun show ».”
Most European media deplore the pro-gun attitudes of American citizens and the lack of action by American lawmakers to institute gun control measures. The Economist published a piece on the American people’s failure to act.
European news media have highlighted the power of the National Rifle Association as explaining American inaction on gun violence. Le Monde reports on the political influence of the NRA and the Great America news blog at Libération also focuses on the NRA. The Independent accused the NRA of hypocrisy for trying to shift the blame for the Newtown massacre from assault rifles to Hollywood.
Some of the European stories, such as one by Le Monde, point to gun buyback programs as a potential method of reducing the number of firearms in circulation in the United States.