Friday, January 1, 2010


As an American of British descent, I tend to think of guns as peculiarly American. It always disturbs me to see armed men whether they be in a legitimate uniform or not. In Atlanta, in the wake of the Olympic Park bombing, it was common to see heavily armed Atlanta police on the MARTA trains. The sight was not comforting. In New Hampshire I have seen everyday folk carrying guns. Some people believe they have a right to be armed at all times. The recent debate in Concord was over the banning of firearms in the state capitol.

Yesterday's mass shooting in Finland illuminates a surprising parallel between American and Finnish culture: gun ownership. The New York Times reports that Finland is among the top five nations for civilian gun ownership. In 2007 Slate magazine reported on gun ownership in Finland in the wake of a school shooting that left 8 dead. The explanation given by Slate for the high rate of gun ownership was the Finnish propensity for hunting. Whatever the parallels, I think the differences will arise in the reaction to the violence. After the shooting in 2008, Finland enacted tougher rules about gun ownership. According to the BBC, "

Handgun permits would no longer be granted to first-time applicants, the interior ministry said.

Instead, they must train for at least a year at a gun club before being allowed to apply for a permit.

All applicants must also provide a note from a doctor about their mental health and sit an interview with police."

The shooter in the latest gun violence had previous firearms violations and was also the subject of a restraining order according to the Helsingin Sanomat. Unlike the incidents in 2007 and 2008, yesterday's violence has been characterized as a crime of domestic violence. The Helsingin Sanomat made this observation:

Whilst no specific reason has been given as yet for why the four persons at the mall were singled out by the gunman, the indications are that this horrible tragedy was not a "shooting-spree" killing of the kind that has made Finland internationally known in the past two years, following school massacres in Jokela and Kauhajoki by disaffected teenage pupils.

Nonetheless, it will inevitably reopen old wounds and will prompt further discussion on the large number of handguns and other weapons owned in this country and on the possible further tightening of restrictions on access to firearms.
Stricter rules on the ownership of handguns were introduced last year in the wake of the Kauhajoki shootings, although in this cases, since the 9mm pistol used was illegally owned, the police have noted that a completely watertight system is beyond the country's reach.

At the same time, the knowledge that the killer was a foreign resident and not a Finnish citizen has prompted a good deal of writing on Finnish online message boards, some of it inflammatory and even racist in tone.
This is in spite of the fact that the motives and circumstances of the case look increasingly as though they may bear a more than passing resemblance to recent killings of a domestic nature - more often than not entire families - carried out by Finnish husbands at the end of their personal rope.

1 comment:

  1. My sister Mary gave me a tip for play dates for my boys. She said it didn't really dawn on her until she moved to NH. She said she ALWAYS asks if guns are in the house and if so, guess what? Her kids don't go. I do the same, most of my friends don't have guns. I am not saying some horrific crime will occur, I am just saying...very troubling. Good post, sad subject