Finland school shooting sparks debate over gun ownership

A gunman killed 10 people and himself in the second massacre in a Finnish school in less than a year. The attack comes in the wake of new EU gun legislation.

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Flags across Finland are flying at half-mast Wednesday to observe a national day of mourning after a student killed nine fellow students and a teacher at a college in the western town of Kauhajoki, before killing himself. The incident – the second school massacre in less than a year – has sparked a national debate over whether to ban private handguns. Finland currently ranks in the top five worldwide for civilian gun ownership, with roughly 1.6 million firearms circulating among a population of about 5 million.

According to The Guardian, the school massacre has prompted the Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen to "push for stricter gun laws" and "consider if 'people should get access to handguns so freely.' "

Vanhanen said he was "very critical about the guns and during the next few months we will make a decision about it"....
"We must considerably tighten [gun controls]," Vanhanen said. "We should consider whether to allow these small arms for private citizens at home. They belong on firing ranges."

The shooting also sparked a national conversation about violence. Writing in The Independent, a Finnish journalist argues that the school shooting should prompt introspection at all levels.

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Once again Finns are having to ask: what is wrong with us? Where is our society going? Are we doing so shamefully little for unstable members of our communities that they are resorting to extreme violence in this way?
It may come as a surprise to people in Britain, but Finland is quite a violent country.... Violence, both domestic and in the streets, is relatively common. This, I believe, is partly a function of excessive alcohol consumption.
It is perhaps also related to family breakdown, isolation and loneliness. Increased wealth has perhaps made Finland a harsher, more competitive place.

Last year, Slate reported that Finland has the highest murder rate in Western Europe, but those cases – which often result from alcohol or domestic abuse – often involve knives rather than firearms.

On Tuesday, 22-year-old Matti Juhani Saari, began firing on students in a classroom at the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality, reports the Associated Press.

Witnesses said panic broke out as the masked gunman entered the school, the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality, and started firing in a classroom where students were taking an exam. He was dressed in black and carried a large bag, witnesses said. About 150 students were at the school, 180 miles northwest of Helsinki, at the time of the shooting.
A police spokesman, Jari Neulaniemi, said the attacker walked into the school armed with a .22-caliber pistol and some kind of explosive devices that he used to start a fire.

Prior to the attack, police had questioned Saari about a video clip on YouTube of himself at a shooting range. The video, the most recent of several posts, showed Saari saying "you will die next" to the camera, followed by three gun shots. Despite this warning, the police did not detain Saari or revoke his gun license because he did not threaten anyone directly. According to the Helsinki Times, an English-language Finnish daily, the shooting incident will lead to an investigation of police actions as well.

Chief Inspector Urpo Lintala from the Seinäjoki police force admitted that Saari had met the police on Monday. He was called for interrogation because the police had received a clue about an internet video clip, on which Saari is featuring himself firing a pistol. Saari was interviewed by the police of Kauhajoki but the interrogation did not lead to any further actions.

The Helsinki Times also reports that police found handwritten messages in Saari's apartment showing that he had been planning the attack since 2002.

In addition to a review of gun laws, the incident will lead authorities to consider changes in Internet monitoring, reports the BBC.

[Vanhanen] said: "The internet and YouTube forums... are not another planet. This is part of our world and we adults have the responsibility to check what is happening, and create borders and safety there."

The attack comes in the wake of a decision by the European Union to introduce gun legislation, reports Bloomberg.

In May, EU ministers approved gun legislation, including increased checks on who can own weapons, stricter vetting on who can buy them, and a ban on the purchase of firearms by people under 18. A key aim was to prevent guns getting into the hands of the mentally unstable, according to Arlene McCarthy, chairwoman of the European Union's consumer-protection committee.
"We predicted this, we saw some problems in this area, we tightened up the rules," she said yesterday. Now the member states must "get on with implementing them," and not wait until the 2010 deadline for their introduction across the EU, she said.

Finland has yet to bring its gun laws in line with EU legislation and permits guns to be licensed to 15-year-olds. In November 2007, after another gunman killed eight people and himself at a school in southern Finland, the authorities had said that the minimum age for buying guns would be raised to 18. At the time, the BBC reported that 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen went on a rampage at his old school after posting a warning video on YouTube. Like Saari, he, too, had obtained a license for his gun.

The shooting happened in Tuusula, some 50km (30 miles) north of Helsinki....
The gunman gave a warning of the attack in a video posted on the internet. The home-made film called "Jokela High School massacre 11/7/2007" shows a young man pointing a gun and declaring himself a "social Darwinist" who would "eliminate all who I see unfit".

In a commentary in The Independent, Finnish journalist Jukka Huusko suggests that Finland's hunting culture and lax gun laws are creating an environment that facilitates such gun violence.

Why is it still so ridiculously easy to get a gun in Finland? Anyone aged over 15 and who belongs to a shooting or hunting club can legally own a firearm. It's not unusual to get your first gun as a teenager, especially in the countryside. And military service means 90 per cent of males are able to shoot a gun....
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