Dutch government ‘concerned’ about U.S. gun violence after soldier’s killing

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Authorities in the Netherlands are “very concerned” about the level of gun violence in the United States, the Dutch defense minister said on Tuesday, after an incident over the weekend in which three Dutch special operations forces were shot in Indianapolis and one died of his injuries.

Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told reporters in Prague, where she met with her European Union counterparts, that the state of affairs in the Netherlands’ “most important ally” had become troubling.

The three Dutch servicemen belonged to the Commando Corps, an elite special operations unit of the Royal Netherlands Army, and had traveled to the United States for training at a camp in southern Indiana. They were visiting Indianapolis while off duty and were shot in front of their downtown hotel at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We do many trainings of our servicemen in the United States, and we really don’t expect this to happen,” Ollongren said.

The Dutch reaction underscored the gulf between the realities of gun violence in the United States and in the Netherlands, two developed countries and NATO allies that cooperate on military matters but have vastly different levels of gun deaths. In the Netherlands, such a street shooting would be an anomaly. In the United States, it’s another weekend night.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) told reporters Monday morning that the commandos could have been shot in a drive-by shooting after a barroom dispute, according to the Indianapolis Star.

“I don’t know the details of how it happened and what caused it to happen,” Hogsett said. “The tragedy is that it happened. The tragedy is people got into a dispute and they ultimately resolved that dispute by pulling out a gun and shooting.”

One of the soldiers, identified by the Marion County Coroner’s Office as 26-year-old Simmie Poetsema, died two nights later from his injuries, the Dutch Defense Ministry said in a news release Monday.

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The other two commandos have injuries that are “currently believed to be non-life-threatening,” the Indianapolis police department said in a statement Monday. Dutch authorities said the commandos were “conscious and able to speak.”

Police have not identified a suspect or released any details of the investigation publicly. “The release of certain investigative information could negatively impact the ability to obtain justice in this case,” the department’s statement said.

Poetsema’s family flew to Indiana when they learned of the shooting and were by the soldier’s bedside in an Indianapolis hospital when he died.

The shooting and Poetsema’s death sent shock waves through the Dutch military, according to Maj. Mark van de Beek, a spokesman for the Royal Netherlands Army. Dutch troops train in the United States because of the wider range of facilities, he told The Washington Post. Training is on pause for now, he said.

The Dutch soldiers had been training at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, a “premier training facility” about 80 miles southeast of Indianapolis, Master Sergeant Jeff Lowry, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard, wrote in an email.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Dutch counterpart on Monday to offer his “deepest condolences.”

“My thoughts are with their families and teammates,” he wrote on Twitter after the call.

Gun violence in the United States has surged in recent years. Firearms purchases hit record levels in 2020 and 2021, with more than 43 million guns estimated to have been bought during that period, according to a Post analysis. More than 45,000 gun fatalities were recorded during each of the past two years, and the rate of gun deaths hit the highest level since 1995.

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The United States’ “intentional homicide” rate was seven times that of the Netherlands in 2020, the last year for which the United Nations has statistics on both countries. The death rate from gun violence was nearly 18 times higher in the United States than in the Netherlands in 2019, according to the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In July, Indiana’s Republican-controlled state government nixed the requirement that people have a permit to legally carry, conceal or transport a handgun within the state. Hoggett, the Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, said he has been working to reduce gun violence in the city, which saw record-setting violence in 2021. As of Aug. 22, the city had recorded 133 criminal homicides so far this year, according to the Indianapolis Star’s tracker.

The numbers represent a 17 percent reduction from last year, Hogsett pointed out Monday. “We are making progress,” he said, according to the Indianapolis Star.

By comparison, the Netherlands recorded 121 victims of murder or manslaughter in the entire country in 2020, the latest year for which the government’s statistics bureau has released numbers.

Dutch gun laws are much stricter than those in the United States. It is illegal to own or use firearms and other weapons in the Netherlands without a special weapons permit. Only people who have been granted an exemption from the ban — for sporting, hunting or participating in historical reenactments, for example — can acquire firearms legally, after undergoing psychological testing and background checks.

The Dutch government warns that travel to the United States can pose certain dangers. “Many people own a firearm,” a government website reads. “It is legal in most states to carry a gun in public. Violence by firearms is widespread across the country.”

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