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World

How Gun Violence In The U.S. Is Viewed From Abroad

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The U.S. has the highest rate of gun-related killings in the developed world, so we wanted to see how reporters overseas are covering the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. We're going to hear in a moment from journalists in Russia and Norway - first, New Zealand. Last March, a mass shooting at a mosque in the city of Christchurch shook that country and led to new gun laws. Journalist Patrick Gower told me at that moment, New Zealanders started paying attention to the connection between violence and hateful ideology spread on sites like 8chan.

PATRICK GOWER: We don't have a gun culture. This has come completely out of nowhere for us. So we can see some answers when we start to look at how shooters are motivated by what they see on 8chan, by what the sort of messages are coming out from Donald Trump, how it all sort of mix in together. But to be honest, we're trying to make sense of that as well. So if there is any new interest in shootings coming out of America, it is about the way that they're caused and how they may have caused the shooting here in Christchurch.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. The suspect in El Paso was allegedly inspired by a white supremacist ideology similar to the one that inspired the alleged mosque shooter in Christchurch, where more than 50 people were killed. And so are these events in the United States being covered in New Zealand as kind of part of that larger narrative?

GOWER: Exactly. Yeah, you've got it right. So, you know, what you've heard is Brenton Tarrant, who was the accused gunman here in New Zealand, anointed - with quote marks around it - as a saint on 8chan and inspiring people and people wanting to match his kill count.

SHAPIRO: When you said match his kill count, I just want to explain to listeners that in some dark corners of the Internet, this is seen as an actual competition for who can kill the most people in a mass shooting like this.

GOWER: Yeah. And it's not just dark corners of the Internet. Until just recently, 8chan was available on the Internet - widely available - was, you know, sort of inspiration - you know, literally, Brenton Tarrant, the accused here in New Zealand, referred to as Saint Brenton on these sites, people talking about, I want to beat his kill count. I want to kill more people than him.

And we've also seen the spread of this theory that he subscribes to - which I have to say virtually no one in New Zealand had ever heard of - which is called replacement theory. What's shocked me, as we've seen in El Paso - that that is referred to as the Hispanic community replacing the rest of the population. And that is the scary part. That is the link here. That is what makes these shootings in the United States so different for us in New Zealand.

SHAPIRO: That was Patrick Gower in New Zealand.

Moscow-based reporter Anna Nemtsova told me Russians also have a hard time understanding the American relationship with firearms.

ANNA NEMTSOVA: Russians don't like guns. Seventy percent of Russian population do not want to legalize guns in Russia. So this is a topic that people really feel, you know, negative about.

SHAPIRO: And when the Russian media does cover the epidemic of gun violence in America, what does the narrative tend to be?

NEMTSOVA: Well, if it is a talk show, then we see politicians often say that - just like Vladimir Putin said last year, this is the result of globalization. Actually, last year, Putin drew a parallel. He said that the fact that there are kids shooting kids in Russia - that means that they take an example from American movies. They have this...

SHAPIRO: Oh, that the problem is spreading from the United States to Russia and other countries.

NEMTSOVA: Exactly - and that the groups that Putin is speaking about on the Internet are just copied from American groups, and the violence is coming from outside. It's not the local source, but some foreign source, again, of all the troubles.

SHAPIRO: There has been a close and complicated relationship between the Russian government and the NRA. This came to light in the case of Maria Butina, who is currently behind bars after pleading guilty to acting as an unregistered agent of Russia. When you see Russian media report on America's gun culture, does that relationship between Moscow and the NRA ever come up?

NEMTSOVA: Yes, and the concepts that, once again, the legalization of guns is unpopular and that Mr. Torshin, who was Maria Butina's boss - and he actually tried to legalize the weapons and spoke about it in - at the Russian Parliament. He failed at his efforts. And Maria Butina, who was promised a big political career in Russia, failed together with him. They never managed to legalize weapons in Russia because there is no public support, and only one-third of Russian bureaucrats support the idea.

SHAPIRO: Reporter Anna Nemtsova in Russia - in Norway, columnist Hanne Skartveit says the shootings were front-page news.

HANNE SKARTVEIT: Of course, it's a big and tragic news story also in Norway.

SHAPIRO: And your paper specifically had an opinion piece titled "The Power Of The Weapons Lobby." Why was that the angle that you took?

SKARTVEIT: Because we are surprised that it's been so many mass shootings in the United States over the years, and it's been a public pressure, also, from those directly affected of those shootings to change the weapon laws. And it didn't happen. It still hasn't happened in the U.S. And we know it's a very strong weapon lobby in the United States with NRA. So that was my angle.

SHAPIRO: Are Norwegian news reports about these American shootings drawing a connection to that event in Norway in 2011?

SKARTVEIT: We had a mass shooting, as you know, in Norway in 2011. It's a big scar in our country's history. People really still feel the pain eight years afterwards - also, the one in New Zealand. It's tragic that the Norwegian guy who grew up in the suburban Norway - normal upbringing - has been inspiring people to these kind of acts. It's just tragic.

SHAPIRO: I know you lived in Washington, D.C., for a few years. Do Norwegians come up to you and say, listen. You lived in this country. Explain it to us. How does this keep happening?

SKARTVEIT: It's a kind of a tragic mystery how this can happen again and again. And it was mass shootings, of course, also, when I lived there with my family. But the political climate was still different then. It was not as harsh and as hostile as we can see that it is today.

SHAPIRO: That was columnist Hanne Skartveit in Norway. She, along with journalists in Russia and New Zealand, spoke with us about how mass shootings are viewed outside the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECONDITE'S "CAPABLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.