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Russia battles its own gun history

MOSCOW

In a country with its own fair share of terrorist tragedies — among the highest-profile were the Beslan massacre of 2004 that left 186 children dead, while 130 died in the Nord-Ost theater siege of 2002 — shootings in America rarely merit much more than a footnote on the evening news.

But Sandy Hook was different for the Russian media.

This was no terrorist plot, but the casual, psychotic violence of an individual armed with a combat assault rifle. Even in a country like Russia that has a love affair with guns for hunting, this was clearly an obscene act.

The story was headline news for days, with most reports focusing on the ease with which Americans can access high-powered military-style automatic weapons, rather than laying any blame on Hollywood’s love of screen violence. While coverage tapered off after the shootings as Russians geared up for their New Year holidays, many news outlets covered the return to school of Sandy Hook survivors.

Russia’s most-watched news station, pubcaster Channel One, devoted long reports to America’s gun culture.

Laying the blame on “psychopaths,” the station noted that this was not the first time such a tragedy had occurred in America, and posed what it called a “dumb question”: Why was the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, more important than the right to life in America, where there are some 300 million guns in a population of 311 million.

In contrast, news coverage of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings in July was less extensive. And because that shooting took place during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Russian media did take time to examine the Hollywood-violence connection.

The Kremlin’s English-language service Russia Today in particular picked up on the issue. One of its columnists, American Robert Bridge, wrote: “While the film industry itself may be ‘an easy and obvious target’ following every shootout at the OK Corral, it is the gun industry that always takes the heat. Yet the knee-jerk reaction on the part of Hollywood, which screams ‘Censorship!’ any time their increasingly violent trade is questioned, may change in the wake of the Aurora massacre.”

Bridge noted that “numerous studies have proven the connection between violence on television and in the movies and aggressiveness in children,” before concluding: “It may be time for Hollywood to rethink the claim that ‘life does not imitate art,’ as Holmes’ actions are clear proof that onscreen violence might not be so harmless after all.”

One significant side-effect of the Sandy Hook killings in Russia is that such was the revulsion in the country that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev immediately proposed a further tightening of the country’s already tight gun control laws.

But despite such laws, Russia’s homicide rate is twice that of the U.S., the Christian Science Monitor reported in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings.

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