Politicians and media around the world have reacted with horror, incomprehension and weary resignation to news that an 18-year-old gunman had murdered 19 children and two teachers in America’s 27th school shooting so far this year.
The politicians mostly observed formalities; commentators, not so much.
In devastated Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was “deeply saddened by the murder of innocent children”, adding that his people “share the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims, and of all Americans”.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, described the massacre as “cowardly” and said the French shared Americans’ “shock and grief – and the rage of those who are fighting to end the violence”. Pope Francis said he was “heartbroken”.
In London, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the country’s “thoughts are with all those affected by this horrific attack”, while the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said she was “horrified by the news”. Her thoughts were “with the people of Texas”.
The press, however, did not mince words.
“There’s carnage in a US school, relatives’ endless distress, a grave presidential speech – then nothing, till the next one,” said Le Monde in a savage editorial. “If there is still an American exceptionalism, it is to tolerate its schools being regularly transformed into shooting ranges, sticky with blood.”
Neither the Uvalde killer, nor the gunman who took 10 lives in Buffalo, nor the one who killed one and wounded five in a California church faced “any legal safeguards that might have complicated access to the firearms they used”, the French daily said.
“America is killing itself, and the Republican party is looking elsewhere. The defence of the second amendment, in its most absolutist sense, is now a quasi-sacred duty, escaping all questioning. Always more weapons: that is Republicans’ only credo.”
Americans, Le Monde said, “bought nearly 20 million firearms in 2021, the second highest sales in history. They also experienced more than 20,000 firearms deaths, not counting suicides. Yet Republicans are plainly unable to establish a causal link.”
In the Netherlands, NRC Handelsblad made much the same points. It has become, the paper said, “a ritual, to which America is more accustomed than any other nation”: a governor urging togetherness, a president quoting the Bible, politicians accusing each other of politicising, “and the countdown to the next one begins”.
Regardless of “generous donations” from the NRA gun lobby, the paper said, “the right to bear arms has solidified and hardened into dogma in a polarised American society” – and with a six-to-three conservative majority on the supreme court, it was a right that might be extended rather than restricted.
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) noted that this year would mark the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, when “the American nation came together in its shock for a historic moment”. Sadly, it did not change anything.
Now, the paper said, “another gunman has bought, apparently legally, two semi-automatic rifles and used them to murder 19 children and two adults shortly after his 18th birthday – three years before he was allowed to drink beer”.
It is not just “a coalition of gun enthusiasts, gun sellers and fearful citizens, welded together by the NRA, that stands in the way of regulation”, the paper said.
“The real stroke of genius was to reinterpret the second amendment right as the only true badge of constitutional loyalty and a requirement for preserving the American way of life. In America, in 2022, the fact that 19 pupils were murdered by a heavily armed 18-year-old two days before the summer holidays will not change anything.”
The Suddeutsche Zeitung said it “probably takes numbers to grasp, if only faintly, what nobody will ever be able to actually understand”: this was Americas 215th firearms incident this year in which at least four people were killed or injured. Last year, there were 693. Since 2013, 2,858 children had been killed or injured.
Spain’s El País had an equally weary analysis. “Mass shootings are such an essential part of US life they have their own rules,” wrote its correspondent, Iker Seisdedos. And each one prompts “an artificial reopening of the debate on gun control”.
The US has 4% of the world’s population, but almost half the pistols and rifles registered on the planet, he said: “It’s a recurring drama, to which America’s lawmakers seem unwilling to put an end – even though they could.”
The most personal response was from Steffen Kretz, a US correspondent for Danish public radio DR. Hours after the latest tragedy, he said, he got a letter from the school his seven-year-old daughter attends promising special help for pupils on Wednesday.
“Only in the US,” write Kretz, “does a seven-year-old attend school to learn about school shootings. Only in the US do children who only just learned to ride a bike have to practise hiding under school desks in case a bad man with a gun comes.”
Every time “a maniac enters a school and spreads death and destruction in a place that should be safe and secure”, he wrote, “the same debate begins. And so far it has led only led to the same result: nothing fundamentally changes.”
The sheer number of weapons in the US, and the power of the NRA, mean this will “probably continue. America’s love-hate relationship with firearms has become an example of how money and lobby groups have corrupted the political system.”
So when Kretz’s daughter meets her friends on Wednesday, they will have to process the fact that the 19 Texas victims were “children their age, whose only fault was to be at school that day. There will be a debate, with arguments everyone knows. Next week, the focus will be elsewhere. Until it happens again.”
Additional reporting by Sam Jones in Madrid