Yesterday's school shooting in Finland are interesting to look at from an American perspective, considering that the United States has an extensive recent history with school shootings and gun control is such a controversial issue in the US. Finland provides an interesting illustration, when compared to its European neighbors, of the possible links between the availability of guns and the frequency of gun crime.
In the US, gun control advocates often point to Europe as an example of an area where it is much harder to get a gun, and conversely there is much less gun crime. This is generally true, in the UK for instance even the police don't carry guns - and I saw first hand how rare and serious crimes involving guns are when I saw the police response to my getting mugged in January.
But there is one major exception to the restrive gun laws in Europe, and that is Finland. In Finland it is actually quite easy to get a gun, and owning one is very popular. There are 1.6 million firearms in private hands in Finland, and the minimum age for owning one is only 15. Only the US and Yemen have higher civilian gun ownership.
Now after yesterday's shooting, which closely followed another horrific school shooting in Finland in the past year, the country's prime minister has called for gun laws to be tightened. Matti Vanhanen said today that Finland should consider banning private handguns.
"In terms of handguns that can easily be carried about, we have to think about whether they should be available for private people," Vanhanen said. "In my opinion, they belong on shooting ranges."
Eleven students died in yesterday's shooting, and nine died in a similiar shooting in the town of Tuusula. Both of the gunmen had valid licenses for owning a gun, and both were young men who had posted videos on youtube with their weapons before the shooting. After last year's attack the Finnish government said it would consider changing the gun ownership laws, but no change was ever made.
School shootings haven't been very common in Europe, but they have occured. Outside of Finland there have been only two major ones. There was one in Scotland in 1996 that preceded the Columbine shootings, and another one in Germany in 2002. Though Finland has had several school shootings, gun crime in the country is relatively rare (although crime in general in Finland is rare). According to goverment figures, 14 percent of homicides in Finland involve a firearm.
Like the United States, Finland has a long and deep connection with hunting and personal gun ownership. But unlike the United States, there is no way of interpreting Finland's constitution as guaranteeing the right to gun ownership, and there is no powerful gun lobby. It could be that having these two shootings so close to one another could be the catalyst.