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Global sympathy for Newtown, antipathy for US gun laws (+video)

Even as observers around the world mourned the teachers and children killed in Newtown, many expressed frustration with a US political system that has left guns so easily accessible.

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“The dissemination of arms among the American population is not enough, on its own, to explain the exasperating frequency with which these massacres have happened.”

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In Israel, where citizens' daily lives being interrupted by violence is an all-too-familiar scenario, newspapers opined on the differences in gun culture between the US and Israel, where the limited number of mass shootings have taken place within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Times of Israel, a relatively new, centrist publication, argued that because Israeli gun owners are screened more carefully, better trained, and more willing to intervene in dangerous situations, Israel’s gun culture actually serves as a check on crime.

In Israel, only about 2.5 percent of civilians are legally permitted to carry weapons, according to local press accounts. Criteria for obtaining a gun permit are relatively stringent. Those who live or work in vulnerable areas, such as West Bank settlements, are allowed to carry guns, as well as those in roughly a dozen professions, from gold and precious stones dealers to those involved in vermin control.

In a commentary for Ynetnews, the English-language website of Israel's most widely read newspaper, Tzipi Shmilovitz writes that such attacks do not come out of nowhere. But the US "is not willing to discuss how it is easier to obtain a gun than to see a doctor; it is not willing to talk about unreasonably violent video games or address the gun-worshipping culture it is raising its children in."

"This is the fault of the American government.... They are giving licenses to shops to sell guns without discussion," says Palestinian Adiel Najj, a tour operator in East Jerusalem.

Damage to the US model

Though the Newtown killings have shocked the US and the world at large, the tragedy has not unalterably changed the opinion of many about the US. In fact Xu Yoyo, a product manager at a Beijing IT company, says that while China has remained largely silent about its own violent school attack, the US has been open and transparent. “Every country has a crime problem,” she explains, “but the important thing is how they respond to such tragedies. China is much worse than the US on this.”

Like hundreds of thousands of foreigners who view the US as the top tier for education, Henry Creagh, a marketing executive in London and father of six, would be happy for his children to travel and live in the US. “The US is a big place and things can happen, but statistically the chances are still low,” he says. “It’s shocking what happened with especially the age of the children but it doesn’t mean America is a bad place.”

Still, mass murders such as the one that occurred in Newtown hardly burnish America’s image in the world. “I don’t think that the US is a land of opportunity anymore,” says Ms. Hou, the project manager in Beijing. “The financial crisis is holding them back, and now there is this violence. I think opportunity in the future is to be found in China or Asia, because the world is establishing a new order.”

And for Shen Dingli, a well-known commentator on international affairs in China, “such cases harm the US image, without a doubt."

“If the US does not take action, the list of shooting cases will grow longer,” he warned in a commentary in Tuesday’s Global Times. “It will become less likely that the US model will be admired and followed.”

• Staff writers Peter Ford in Beijing and Christa Case Bryant in Jerusalem contributed to this report, as did correspondents Ian Evans in London and Fred Weir in Moscow.

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