News Analysis: After Colorado mass shooting, what U.S. can learn from Finland’s gun control

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by Juhani Niinisto

HELSINKI, March 27 (Xinhua) — The United States, which has the world’s highest rate of gun ownership by civilians, is no stranger to mass shootings, with the latest one killing 10 people in Boulder in the state of Colorado on Monday. But Finland, which likewise has a high gun ownership rate, presents a starkly different picture.

According to studies by the Small Arms Survey in 2018, an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, there were 121 guns for every 100 residents in the United States.

In comparison, Finland’s rate was 32 firearms for every 100 people, the eighth-highest in the 25 top-ranked countries and territories. However, the Nordic country has been considered successful in keeping the criminal usage of weapons low.

STRICT ARMS CONTROL

In Finland, sports and hunting are acceptable for a gun permit, but self-defense is never a valid basis.

Following two school shootings that killed some 20 people in 2007 and 2008 altogether, Finland strictly reduced the availability of semiautomatic weapons and made it impossible for those under 20.

The change in the police attitude was essential, said Martti Lehti, a senior researcher from the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy at the University of Helsinki. Police began actively canceling weapon permits once criminal convictions or registered mental health problems showed up for the holders.

A police officer had even been given a court warning as the 2008 school shooter had been called in for questioning on alleged extremism, but had been allowed to keep the gun that he used for killing ten the following day.

A school attacker in Kuopio, eastern Finland, in October 2019 used a sword. During the investigation, it is revealed that the man had failed to purchase a gun.

IDENTIFY VIOLENCE IN ADVANCE

Besides strict gun control, Finland also launched cooperation between the police and health authorities. They created a system of contacting each other regarding individuals of special concern, in efforts to identify possible violence in advance.

The suspect in the Colorado supermarket shooting made his first court appearance Thursday, where his public defender asked for a mental health evaluation. According to media reports, a law enforcement official previously said that the suspect’s family told investigators they believed the suspect was suffering some mental illness.

Tarja Mankkinen, Head of Development at Police Department in the Ministry of the Interior, told Xinhua that, in Finland, if a person talks about violence or behaves oddly, a risk analysis is often triggered through friends or relatives who will contact the police or the health sector. “This kind of system works as the general trust of the people in the police force is high in Finland and the threshold of approaching the police is low.”

Mankkinen underlined that the joint assessment between police and the health specialists is not a criminal investigation, and the individual is not a suspect, but “a person of specific concern.”

Besides having mental health issues, the persons assessed might also have been ideologically radicalized. The assessment can be started at such a low level of symptoms that the person is well below the threshold of being sent for involuntary mental health treatment.

POLICE FORCE TRAINING

Mankkinen noted that the rarity of “shootouts” in public is also a result of police behavior in Finland. The threshold for the police to use firearms is high, and police officers have undergone thorough and long training. Every case in which police use the firearm is investigated.

“There is a huge difference to the United States,” Mankkinen said. “Here in Finland, it takes three years of training to become a police officer. … The police is also a national top-down organization, and heads of police departments are never locally elected officials.”

Lehti, the researcher at the University of Helsinki, said that the lack of major organized crime in Finland has also kept the criminal usage of arms low.

According to Statistics Finland, the total number of criminal killings in 2020 was 91. Lehti said that the number of gun incidents has remained around ten per year, but the loss of life has declined as there have been no mass killings. Enditem

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