The Second Version

24/09/08

On the Finnish School Killing

A Finnish high school student ran amok and killed 10 other students of his college before committing suicide, all with the assistance of a Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol.

Leaving aside the human interest side of the story, let's crunch some numbers first. The CIA Worl Fact Book gives Finland's population as 5 245 000 people in July 2008; BBC gives the number of legally-owned firearms as 1 600 000 - making for around 0.3 guns per capita (nice ratio), or a firearms for every 3 people.

The number of gun owners can only be estimated, but I suppose that some people will own more than one firearm, so a reasonable estimate is of one million (legal) gun owners, or something like 15-20% of the populacetion.

Considered that two people freaked out and committed mass-murder within the last year, it can be concluded that Finnish gun owners are quite well-behaved, with only one in roughly 500 000 at risk of committing mass-murder. On the other hand, try to suggest that if 1 out 1000 people belonging to any non-white ethnic group are mass-murderers, there may be a problem with that group's culture, and see how the liberals sharpen their knives.

How easy (or difficult) is to legally own a firearm in Finland? I don't know the language so I cannot read the original laws, but the Global Peace Index* website has a scale of "Ease of access to weapons of minor destruction": on a scale of increasing ease, Finland is rated 2, while the USA is rated 3 (Italy is rated 3 too... on what kind of basis?). Firearms in Finland thus seem to be under pretty tight control.

In a follow-up BBC piece, it is stated that:
Police admit they interviewed Saari on Monday in connection with three videos that were posted on the YouTube website last week.

One of the videos shows a young man firing a pistol before pointing the weapon at the camera and declaring in English "you will die next".

But no action was taken by the authorities to confiscate Saari's legally held pistol or to hold him into custody.
Probably because in Finland the cops cannot take someone into custody or confiscate his belongings if he has not committed a crime. I know that it can be shocking for Brits, accustomed to a system where one can be arrested for only uttering politically incorrect words, but that's how it is supposed to be in free countries.

The revelation that should make many - the BBC folks in the first place - think hard, comes at the end of the same article:
Young people can own and use a firearm in Finland at 15 years of age if they have parental consent.

There are around 1.6 million guns registered in the country, making per-capita gun ownership among the highest in the world.

Gun crime is rare in Finland although shooting is very popular - mainly due to widespread hunting in the country's extensive forests and sub-Arctic wilderness.
So in three pragraphs it is said that Finnish can start using guns at young age; the population is quite heavily armed and sport shooting and hunting are very popular... yet gun crime is rare. If it were true that a high number of guns and exposition to "gun culture" increases gun crime, Finland ought to be a very violent place. Instead, it is classified as one of the most 10 peaceful countries in the world (again, the GPI sets the level of violent crime for Finland at 1; it's 1 also for the USA but 3 for Italy).

The government of Finland appears intentioned to tighten gun control, but it's yet another case of closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. The school shooter apparently has been planning the massacre since 2002: tighter gun control can really stop someone with such a determination to cause death and mayhem? But as usual, it will make life harder for the many law-abiding gun owners (if most of them took up political activism, at some 20% that fraction of the population there's a good chance tighter gun control laws would not pass).

* I have criticized the GPI in the past, but it's more about the interpretation of the various indexes than the numbers themselves. In any case, numbers obtained with a consistent methodology are suitable for comparative purposes.

Update: There is a point I want to clarify. The police officers who questioned Saari probably did everything according to laws and procedures (but it's not impossible that they were lazy or incompetent, in fact); it is also obvious that they failed to notice the young man's disturbed mental state. And taking guns away from mad people is completely legitimate. Also, the article has been slightly modified after initial publication.

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