Looking in from abroad, much of the world has historically been baffled by America’s gun laws. In no other country can a mentally unstable person access a Glock pistol as easily as suspected Arizona shooter Jared Loughner did. And in no other country is the number of people who own guns as high as in the United States, where there are 90 guns for every 100 people.
The Second Amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms is part of America’s founding fabric. So is senseless violence brought about by guns also American?
That was the question posed at today’s White House press briefing by Russian journalist Andrei Sitov, the Washington Bureau Chief for Moscow-based Itar-Tass. Predictably, the query irked many in the room, including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
"I think there’s agreement on all sides of the political spectrum that violence is never, ever acceptable,” Gibbs said from the podium. What happened in Tucson "was not in keeping with the important bedrock values on which this country was founded,” he said.
Several other reporters scoffed at the suggestion as well. But much more scoffing over the last week came from overseas, where foreign news agencies reacted to the Tucson tragedy with an element of saying "we could have predicted this."
"The Tucson shooting, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, is another tragic commentary on the poisonous political climate that has developed in the United States, allied to the country's pervasive gun culture,” read an editorial published in a New Zealand. In the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Rod Tiffen stated what seems like an obvious point missed over the past week: “There is a strong correlation between the number of guns in a society and deaths resulting from them.”
Ed Pilkington, a writer for the U.K.’s Guardian asked it more simply. “What is it with guns and America? Why does the most advanced democracy, which prides itself on being a bastion of reason and civilization in a brutal and ugly world, put up with this carnage in its own back yard?”
Which raises the question, is Sitov right? Is occasional violent tragedy a distasteful byproduct of a free society? I walked out of the briefing room with Sitov, who appeared to realize the impact that his question had on the roomful of Americans. “It’s an obvious question and nobody asks that question,” he told me through his thick Russian accent. “This is a cost that your country pays for freedom.”