LONDON - The Virginia Tech shootings sparked criticism of U.S. gun control laws around the world Tuesday. Editorials lashed out at the availability of weapons, and the leader of Australia _ one of America's closest allies _ declared that America's gun culture was costing lives.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the government hoped Monday's shootings, allegedly carried out by a 23-year-old South Korean native, would not "stir up racial prejudice or confrontation."
While some focused blame only on the gunman, world opinion over U.S. gun laws was almost unanimous: Access to weapons increases the probability of shootings. There was no sympathy for the view that more guns would have saved lives by enabling students to shoot the assailant.
"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," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who staked his political career on promoting tough gun laws after a gunman went on one of the world's deadliest killing sprees 11 years ago.
The tragedy in a Tasmanian tourist resort left 35 people dead. Afterward, Australia's gun laws were changed to prohibit automatic weapons and handguns and toughen licensing and storage restrictions.
Handguns are also banned in Britain _ a prohibition that forces even the country's Olympic pistol shooting team from practicing on its own soil. In Sweden, civilians can acquire firearm permits only if they have a hunting license or are members of a shooting club and have no criminal record. In Italy, people must have a valid reason for wanting one. Firearms are forbidden for private Chinese citizens.
Still, leaders from Britain, Germany, Mexico, China, Afghanistan and France stopped short of criticizing President Bush or U.S. gun laws when they offered sympathies to the families of Monday's victims.
Editorials were less diplomatic."Only the names change _ And the numbers," read a headline in the Times of London. "Why, we ask, do Americans continue to tolerate gun laws and a culture that seems to condemn thousands of innocents to death every year, when presumably, tougher restrictions, such as those in force in European countries, could at least reduce the number?"
The French daily Le Monde said the regularity of mass shootings across the Atlantic was a blotch on America's image.
"It would be unjust and especially false to reduce the United States to the image created, in a recurrent way, from the bursts of murderous fury that some isolated individuals succumb to. But acts like this are rare elsewhere, and tend to often disfigure the 'American dream.'"
Britain's 46 homicides involving firearms last year was the lowest since the late 1980s. New York City, with 8 million people compared to 53 million in England and Wales, recorded 590 homicides last year.
In Italy, there are three types of licenses for gun ownership: for personal safety, target practice and skeet shooting, and hunting. Authorization is granted by the police. To obtain a gun for personal safety, the owner must be an adult and have a "valid" reason.
Italy's leading daily Corriere della Sera's main story on the shootings was an opinion piece entitled "Guns at the Supermarket" _ a critical view of the U.S. gun lobby and the ease with which guns can be purchased. State-run RAI radio also discussed at length what it said were lax standards for gun ownership in the United States.