Friday, April 20, 2007

American Gun Laws: Viewpoints from Germany

In response to the horrific Virginia massacre in recent days, the following comments by SPIEGELONLINE INTERNATIONAL’s readers give an insight of how the Germans view US gun laws. Be sure to click on all the links. They are very interesting, and enlightening to a degree.
SPIEGELONLINE INTERNATIONAL: The debate about gun control in the United States that began in Europe immediately after Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech angered many of our American readers. We published their letters, and now we're posting some of the responses we've received here in Germany.

"Everyone here in Europe feels sympathy for the victims of the shootings," writes Volker Lauterbach. "The press reports are not expressing any Schadenfreude, quite the opposite. But what constantly astonishes us is the vehemence with which the right to own a gun, even after such a crime, is defended. The arguments that are constantly produced (people, not guns, kill people) disguise the fact that it is people with guns who kill people. The statistics on murders with firearms repeatedly show that making it more difficult to gain access to guns significantly brings down the number of deaths due to gun violence, in both percentage and absolute terms. Cases like the one in Erfurt represent a truly terrible exception, but don’t change the facts. As friends of the US we have a duty to constantly point these kinds of things out. That is not meant to be anti-American or hostile. It is always in the hope that these kinds of incidents will not occur again, whether it be in Germany, the US or any other country, so that we don’t have to mourn more victims. There is great sympathy in Europe and all of us mourn with you."

"It's very interesting how conservative bloggers and pundits in the US have such a thin skin: they perceive lectures and humiliation at the slightest attempt of analysis when debating the issue of gun control, which has been successfully turned into a word with entirely negative connotations like "cancer" or "terrorist," writes Christian Habeck. "The gun control debate is driven by pure ideology and a severely skewed, context-free interpretation of the 2nd amendment. Why can't hand guns and assault weapons be banned, while issuing permits for rifles and shotguns for hunters? Why can't this even be debated?"

"It is unfortunate that the loudmouth arch conservatives have access to so much money to propagate their agenda of guns for 'law abiding' citizens," writes George Hunziker. "They are in absolute denial of the consequences of guns and crime. Evoking the 'Founding Fathers' as justification of such reactionary thinking shows the absurdity of their thinking process. That opinion, formed at a time when gunslingers and 'savage indigenous' people roamed much of this vast land, has no place in a modern society and the wise Founding Fathers they like to quote, would be the first one to declare, 'thank God, the society has evolved to a more civilized level.' In an age of of cell phones and high speed police responses in an emergency, these 'self defense' weapons are purchased mostly by criminals, not the average citizen. The gun lobby abuses words like 'freedom,' 'individualism,' 'manhood,' and 'independence' as slogans to market their 18th century ideas. Never mind that these ideals are in direct opposition of these killing machines: automatic handguns and submachine guns with armor penetrating bullets."

"I think that the way that Spiegel is portraying the gun control debate as left vs. right is too simplistic," writes Holly Nazar of Montreal, Canada. "I am a Canadian, and a social democrat, but I do believe that every regulation or restriction of a citizen's freedoms should be weighed very carefully against the danger of giving the government too much power. It seems that Europeans are not as sensitive to this danger as North Americans are. In this case there is very little evidence that gun control leads to less violence, and so the balance is not in favor of tight gun controls. That said, there is no reason for anyone to own some of the sophisticated assault weapons that American law still allows."

"Your article says that you are receiving many messages from the conservatives in the US denouncing European criticism of our worship of guns," writes Philip Hefner of Chicago. "Millions of us here are just as critical of the gun lobbies and the widespread glorification of guns as any Europeans. For us, Charlton Heston and his ilk are an embarrassment. It is a travesty to place the so-called 'right to bear arms' on a par with the other freedoms of the Bill of Rights. Some of the European criticism is off the mark and just as extreme as Heston's, but we need the reality checks that international voices give us."

Post from Germany: “America Has Lost Touch with Reality”
Mark Alexander