The recent Newton shooting and the attack at a Chinese school in Henan, though differing in methodology and in media exposure, share a striking similarity in their victims: schoolchildren. The defenselessness of the children and the indiscriminate, unsystematic nature of killings like these inevitably stir reflective debate on motive, weapon controls and security.

Debate surrounding gun laws in the US will take place for weeks following another attack in what now appears to be a frequent fixture on news networks. Previous inaction following shootings and the fact that the US is already a country awash with weaponry shouldn’t be excuses for any failure to pass legislation that tries to prevent future attacks. However, debate centred upon the availability of guns is misguided and unproductive. This argument is reinforced by the stabbings in China, where there are stringent gun restrictions which did not prevent an attack of similar brutality to that of the Newton massacre.

Once a place that took great pride in its low levels of violence, China’s most recent attack is just one in a series that are specific in targeting schools. The most violent to date being an attack in Taixing where there were twenty-eight casualties.  Although the little attention given to last Friday’s attack in China from the Western media can be accounted for by our tendency to focus on more Anglicised and affluent regions of the world, the lack of media attention devoted by China’s state run media may at first appear unusual. It is not censorship in order to limit negative reporting in China but a way to limit the exposure of such news to others of a similar mental instability.

This is an attempt to stop copycat killings that are believed to have led to a series of school attacks that peaked in 2010 with six attacks in just three months.  This approach contrasts sharply with the relentless and thorough coverage Western media gives to high profile massacres in the US. It provides the attention and platform that may encourage schools as the target by those wishing to vent their disillusionment with society with the greatest impact. The media provides the rhetorical ammunition that creates notoriety for the killer. It is infamous shootings such as Columbine and the attention they provide that appeal to shooters like Adam Lanza. For a man like Lanza, rejected and an outcast of society, returning to the scene of his childhood seclusion would be disturbing appropriate for someone trying to send a message to the society that neglected him. It neither justifies nor explains Lanza’s actions, but it provides an insight into a potential part of the motive behind the attack.

It is debatable whether the rise of violence in China coincides with its transformation into a modern capitalist country, given the growing economic and social pressures that accompany such change. Like most US attacks they are done by people on the fringes of society. The Chinese attacks appear to contain an element of financial frustration, whereas class doesn’t appear to be a significant factor in the US attacks; Lanza for instance was from an affluent family.

The tendency after attacks like these is to paint the killer protagonists as deranged and alienated from normal society, often to avoid any criticism that puts society partially to blame. What these attacks from opposite ends of the globe do show is that the solution doesn’t lie in gun restrictions or in disregarding motive for atrocity as lunatic. Instead it lies in society reassessing how it handles those on the fringes committing the attacks. Until that misunderstanding is corrected, attacks like these will remain a frequent and disturbing occurrence.

Tom Rees

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