Gun ownership high, violence low in Finland
By Alan Gomez and Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
Finland, a country with a high number of guns but a low rate of gun violence, appeared stunned by a school shooting that left eight people dead and may consider revising its accommodating gun laws, Finnish experts said Wednesday.
"This is quite a low-crime society in general," said Jan-Olof Nyholm, executive chief superintendent for the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation. "This type of tragedy hasn't happened (often)."
Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said the government will review its gun laws. "Definitely this will impact opinions about handguns," he said.
An 18-year-old entered Jokela High School in Tuusula on Wednesday and killed seven students and the school's principal before killing himself.
Jukka Savolainen, a criminologist at the Finnish Ministry of Justice, said gun crime is so rare in Finland because most of the country's firearms are hunting weapons. There are far fewer handguns, he said.
Savolainen, now a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, compares gun ownership in Finland to gun ownership in the rural USA. He said many U.S. shootings are in urban centers, where the drug trade and gangs escalate violence. "I'm from Helsinki, and I don't know anybody who owns a gun," he said.
In Finland, anyone age 15 or older can apply for a gun license with local police if they are able to offer a valid reason. The easiest way to obtain a license is by joining a shooting or hunting club, as the Jokela gunman did in October.
"Ownership of guns is quite liberal in Finland, and mostly it's a question of people who are hunting who have the guns," Nyholm said.
Gun violence is rare. Finnish media reported that the last school shooting was in 1989 and involved a 14-year-old boy who killed two other students apparently for teasing him.
The USA has seen far more school shootings, but it is also much larger. Finland's population is 5.3 million, compared with about 300 million in the USA.
The latest multiple shooting in the USA was in April, when a student killed 32 people and then himself at Virginia Tech.
In both the Virginia Tech and Finland shootings, the gunmen recorded videos of themselves that anticipated the crimes to come. Nyholm said it was too early to say whether one inspired the other.
"How people are affected … by things that happen overseas, other people will have to guess. But the world has gotten smaller, and things that happen elsewhere can have an affect here," he said.