How The World Responded To The Las Vegas Shooting
International news coverage had one common theme: utter bewilderment at the lack of proper gun laws in the US
The United States is still reeling from the horrific events in Las Vegas on October 1st. The rest of the world is also following the story. World leaders from all over the world issued condolences to the US and the shooting’s victims, while major news publications abroad also covered the shooting extensively. Their takes provide some insight into how others see the US generally, and their struggle with gun violence more specifically.
Most condolences from world leaders were standard statements of solidarity and grief following the tragedy. Except for Cambodia’s autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took the occasion to insert some shade on the US into his message. He expressed sorrow for the tragedy, and then in the same breath rebuked the US embassy there for issuing a security warning for his country:
“When the US ambassador called for Americans to be careful in Cambodia, [the shooting] did not happen in Cambodia but on US soil,” Hun Sen said. “Yet the US is the one who made the appeal. This is the mocking of fate.”
The US had issued the warning after the arrest of an opposition leader and the expulsion of the National Democratic Institute, a US non-profit organization that works to strengthen democratic institutions across the world. Mr. Sen further warned Cambodians to be vigilant when traveling or working in the US, tit for tat style.
Much of the international media coverage followed a general pattern: highlighting the sadness and shock at the nature of the attack, while attempting to explain how something like this could happen in the world’s richest country.
Overwhelmingly, media outlets pointed to the lack of proper gun control in the US as the reason behind this shooting in particular, and the high prevalence of gun deaths in the US in general. Many also placed blame on American conservatives and Donald Trump.
Japan’s center-right Yomiuri Shimbun criticized American conservatives for their pro-gun control arguments, arguing that their interpretation of the Second Amendment is unreasonable, and warning:
If the distribution of weapons of mass murder remains unchecked, they will likely be abused by extremists and terrorists. There is a substantial gap between such sensible arguments and the claims made by conservatives.
Another Japanese paper, the Asahi Shimbun called it “mind-boggling” that high caliber automatic weapons are readily available for seemingly any American to purchase. The Japan Times, meanwhile, was quick to compare the number of gun deaths in 2014 in the US (33, 599) and Japan (6), largely as a result of Japan’s very strict gun control laws.
Indonesia’s Jakarta Post called mass shootings “a fact of life in America.”
Several outlets — including Jakarta Post, China’s Global Times, Brazil’s Estadao and Exame magazine, and India’s The Hindu, pointed to pro-gun lobbies as the prime impediment to progress on sensible gun laws. The latter three publications also pointed out that President Donald Trump pandered to groups such as the NRA and received widespread support from them.
Foreign news outlets also provided some nuanced takes on the issue, ones that didn’t necessarily make the front covers in the US. For example, the Indian Express published a thorough historical overview of American gun legislation, tracking how US gun policy came to be what it is today.
The Hindustan Times and Russia’s state owned Sputnik news both pointed out the oft overlooked fact that, while representing just 5 percent of the global population, Americans owned anywhere from 35–40 percent of firearms globally.
Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported on the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories following the Vegas shooting, particularly from right wing groups. Switzerland’s 24 heueres, meanwhile, explored the recovery process for Las Vegas businesses, particularly the tourist industry.
As might be expected, media outlets also explored how the tragedy affected their own countries. This went beyond reporting whether or not there were citizens of a respective country among the victims of the shooting. Chinese papers documented the efforts of Chinese tourists and Chinese-Americans to help in the aftermath of the shooting. The People’s Daily, the official Communist party newspaper, reported that Chinese tourists were among the scores who lined up to give blood to aid the injured after the shooting, and that a local Chinese restaurant was on site to provide free food to donors, while China Daily recounted a story of a Chinese tour guide who helped transport wounded victims.
In France 24’s coverage of the shooting, the anchor recalled the shock among French people had when then-candidate Trump’s suggested that if French people had guns, there would have been fewer deaths from terrorist attacks. This was juxtaposed with the American response to such a statement, which is taken as pure fact in conservative states.
Chidanand Rajghatta, the US editor of the Times of India predicted a lack of action on sensible gun control in the US, likening it to India’s own inaction on limiting stampedes and railway accidents following such tragedies, adding:
This, after all, is a country that barely acted beyond words when school children were massacred in the Sandy Hook incident.
Of course, it is difficult to discuss foreign perceptions of US gun violence without evoking Australia as a counter example. Following a mass shooting in 1996, the Conservative government in the country sought to massively reduce and restrict the amount of firearms in the country. It worked; tougher laws and a temporary buyback scheme led to the destruction of 1 million firearms and a steep decline in shootings. In the wake of the Vegas shooting, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop offered to assist the American government on moving forward with sensible gun laws. It’s unlikely she will be taken up on that by the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, state-owned outlets used the tragedy to push through some subtle anti-US propaganda. Chen Weinhua of China Daily keenly reminds readers that, in its annual report, China’s State Council Information Office cites gun violence as a perennial human rights violation in the US. In Russia, the nationalist news organization Pravda pushed the narrative that shooter Steven Paddock was a member of ISIS, and did not withdraw the story when no evidence was found of this.
There are several takeaways from this exercise. First, the depth and nuance of foreign coverage on this issue is surprising, particularly in comparison to Americans’ generally shallower understanding of affairs in other countries. Moreover, however, this coverage shows that America’s obsession with guns is well covered and has an impact on perceptions of the US. The notion of the US as dangerous was a common refrain in many of the articles reviewed. Another was a general bewilderment at the lack of proper laws given the relative frequency of such tragedies.
Foreign and domestic outlets generally agree that it is unlikely there will be much progress towards sensible gun laws. Whatever happens, the world will be watching.