LONDON – Expressions of sympathy rang out from Buckingham Palace to Beijing as the world absorbed the news of yet another deadly shooting spree in the United States.
But the Virginia Tech massacre also heightened questions about how such horrific violence could break out with such regularity in America, and whether relatively lax U.S. gun laws are not a case of freedom gone too far.
"Only the names change. And the numbers," said a headline in the Times of London.
While there was widespread shock at the shooting spree that left 33 people dead, few people expressed surprise. Many focused criticism on the availability of guns in the United States and the number of Americans who cling to the constitutional right that allows them to bear arms.
"This incident reflects the problem of gun control in America," Yuan Peng, an American studies expert in China, was quoted as saying by state-run China Daily.
The shooting drew intense coverage in China, in part because the school has a substantial Chinese student body and because reports identified the assailant as Asian. One blogger wondered whether the rampage was motivated by a grudge against the United States.
"Why are there were so many shooting incidents in American schools and universities?" said a comment posted on the popular Internet portal Sohu.com. "People should think why an American-educated student would take revenge against America?"
In Britain, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty — who earned a degree in political science at Virginia Tech in 1982 — expressed hope the attack would generate momentum for making it harder to buy guns in America.
"I think if this does prompt a serious and reflective debate on gun issues and gun law in the states then some good may come from this woeful tragedy," McNulty said.
The Queen and the prime minister had words of sadness, not criticism.
"The Queen was shocked and saddened to hear of the news of the shooting in Virginia," Buckingham Palace said. Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, are scheduled to visit Virginia on May 3-4.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, too, offered condolences.
"I would like to express on behalf of Britain and the British people our profound sadness at what has happened and to send the American people and most especially, of course, the families of the victims, our sympathy and our prayers," Blair said.
There was deep grieving in India and Israel, which both had countrymen killed in the rampage.
Liviu Librescu, a 75-year-old Israeli engineering and mathematics lecturer, tried to stop the gunman from entering his classroom by blocking the door before he was fatally shot, his son said from Tel Aviv, Israel.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview. The professor, who had emigrated to Israel from Romania, had been in Virginia for his sabbatical.
The family of Indian-born G.V. Loganathan, 51, a lecturer at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, expressed disbelief at their loved-one's slaying.
"We all feel like we have had an electric shock, we do not know what to do," Loganathan's brother, G.V. Palanivel, told Indian media.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative, staked his political career on pushing through tough laws on gun ownership after a lone gunman went on one of the world's deadliest killing sprees 11 years ago.
He said such change required determination.
"We took action to limit the availability of guns and we showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country," Howard said.
The French daily Le Monde commented that the regularity of mass shootings across the Atlantic was a blotch on America's image.
"It would be unjust and especially false to reduce the United States to the image created, in a recurrent way, from the bursts of murderous fury that some isolated individuals succumb to. But acts like this are rare elsewhere, and tend to often disfigure the 'American dream."'
The Times of London ran an editorial asking why American society clings to loose gun laws that appear to be costing so many lives.
"Why, we ask, do Americans continue to tolerate gun laws and a culture that seems to condemn thousands of innocents to death every year, when presumably, tougher restrictions, such as those in force in European countries, could at least reduce the number?"
Gun crime is rare in Britain, and handguns are completely illegal. The ban is so strictly enforced that Britain's Olympic pistol shooting team is barred from practicing in its own country.
Britain's 46 homicides involving firearms was the lowest total since the late 1980s. New York City, with 8 million people compared to 53 million in England and Wales, recorded at least 579 homicides last year.
"What exactly triggered the massacre in Virginia is unclear but the fundamental reason is often the perpetrator's psychological problems in combination with access to weapons," Swedish daily Goteborgs-Posten commented.
Swedish civilians can only get firearm permits if they have a hunting license or are members of a shooting club approved by authorities and have no history of violent crime.
In Italy, leading daily Corriere della Sera's ran an opinion piece entitled "Guns at the Supermarket" — a critical view of the U.S. gun lobby and the ease with which guns can be purchased.
"The latest attack on a U.S. campus will shake up America, maybe it will provoke more vigorous reactions than in the past, but it won't change the culture of a country that has the notion of self-defense imprinted on its DNA and which considers the right of having guns inalienable," Corriere wrote in its front-page story.