According to the official statistics, 45 people in Finland were killed by knives in 2006 and 10 by guns.
When I was 15 I got my first gun, a 16-gauge shotgun for hunting. When I was 19, I had three shotguns and a rifle. All were legal. It is possible, here in Finland, to get a licence for a gun when you are 15. You need approval from your parents, of course, but I had no problem at all with that. Both my parents were—and still are—keen hunters.
I applied for a licence for a handgun, too. The police told me that I would need to join a shooting club first. I did not bother. There are currently more than 800 000 licensed guns in Finland. The vast majority are for hunting, something of a Finnish national sport, but the number of handguns has been rising steadily over the past few years. The police issue more than 60 000 new gun-purchase licences every year, many of them to people who already own guns. And until last year, all these guns caused very few real problems.
According to the official statistics, 45 people in Finland were killed by knives in 2006 and 10 by guns. Not a single person was killed by a minor with a licensed gun. You could—and in fact, you still can—claim that issuing licences for hunting guns to minors is not a security risk.
Then on November 7 2007, at Jokela high school, an 18-year-old shot dead six fellow students, the school principal and the school nurse with a 22-calibre pistol, before turning the gun on himself. He had been issued the licence for the gun just a few months earlier. In the wake of the tragedy the police were given new guidelines for issuing licences to buy and carry a gun.
This week, at Kauhajoki school of hospitality in western Finland, a 22-year-old student, Matti Juhani Saari, made headlines around the world when he killed 10 people and himself with a licensed 22-calibre pistol. He had been issued the licence in August. On Monday, the day before the massacre, he had been interviewed by the police who had been alerted to videos he had uploaded to the website YouTube. In one of the clips, he is shown firing a handgun before staring at the camera and declaring: “You will die next.” Having talked to Saari, however, police decided not to cancel his licence.
It would seem that the new guidelines made very little difference. The prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, has already announced that Finland’s gun laws will now be changed. No details have yet been given, but it is quite easy to predict the outcome: it will become very difficult indeed to get a licence for a handgun. Getting a licence for a shotgun or rifle for hunting will also become more difficult. There will also be pressure from other European countries to set the minimum age for a gun licence at 18.
Everything else, I predict, will be accepted in Finland quite easily. But the idea of making hunting impossible for youngsters aged 15 to 17 will not go down well at all. Other countries may find it insane, but 15-year-olds have always had access to guns in Finland. It is part of Finnish culture, and it has never caused us any problems. There is no link between hunting and murder. Neither of the young murderers had a hunting background. Both, moreover, were old enough to hold a licence without parental consent.
Hunting is a popular hobby in Finland—and it will and should remain so, despite these dreadful massacres. I think this way, and so do most Finns. And no, I do not have a vested interest here: I gave up hunting when I was 20. It was, at the end of the day, rather boring.—