For nearly a decade, America’s satirical publication The Onion has run a headline that’s come to epitomise the futility many people feel in the wake of yet another US gun massacre.
“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” reads the title, which the outlet published today for the 21st time since 2014.
The article goes on to note: “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as ‘helpless’.”
Today’s article comes after a teenage gunman shot dead 19 primary school children and two teachers in Texas.
The Onion also ran the headline earlier this month, after a racist shooting at a grocery store in upstate New York.
The publication’s home page today features all 21 versions of the article, before any other content is visible.
The headline routinely circulates on social media after mass shootings, as flags are lowered to half-staff, moments of silence are held, and US politicians offer words of condolence, prayers, and tears – but ultimately little else.
The inertia in the face of cyclical violence stands in stark contrast to responses elsewhere in the world.
Hours after the Texas attack, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, appeared on the US program “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and drove home just how uniquely American the problem is.
In 2019 a white supremacist gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, murdering 51 people and injuring dozens more.
Less than a month later, the country outlawed almost all semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles.
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“I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country,” Ms Ardern said at the time.
Speaking yesterday, she explained that New Zealanders are “a very pragmatic people”.
“When we saw something like that happen, everyone said never again,” she said. “So then it was incumbent on us as politicians to respond to that.”
Ms Ardern also invalidated fears that gun control would have an adverse impact on activities like hunting.
“We have legitimate needs for guns in our country, for things like pest control and to protect our biodiversity,” she told Colbert. “But you don’t need a military-style semi-automatic to do that. And so we got rid of them.”
Australian economy ministry Jim Chalmers summed up a large part of the global reaction to the Texas attack, saying “it is hard to imagine that a great country like the United States can go on like this, with this gun violence, these mass atrocities”.
Decades before New Zealand was forced to take action, Australia tightened its own gun laws, after 35 people were shot dead in Tasmania, in what became known as the Port Arthur massacre.
A mandatory buyback programme saw over 600,000 previously legally-held weapons being surrendered to the state.
Closer to home, Britain banned automatic weapons in 1987, after the murder of 16 people in a mass shooting in Hungerford.
Parliament voted to further tighten gun laws after 16 schoolchildren and their teacher were murdered in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996. Virtually all handgun ownership was banned, though the rules are different in Northern Ireland.
More recently, Canada announced a ban on a wide range of military-style weapons, following a mass shooting in 2020 in which 22 people were killed.
The American distinction isn’t lost on US politicians, including President Joe Biden, who in the aftermath of the latest shooting tweeted that “these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen elsewhere in the world”.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” he pleaded.