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After Colorado mass shooting, what US can learn from Finland on gun control

China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-29 10:47
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Jennifer Cunningham (L) and Zileen Kieran-Johnson hold each other during a moment of silence at the Colorado State Capitol during a discussion on gun violence in the wake of the Boulder shooting that took place on Monday at King Soopers, leaving ten dead, Denver Colorado, US, March 28, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

HELSINKI-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 last Monday.

The suspect in the Colorado supermarket shootings bought a firearm at a local gun store after passing a background check, and had a second weapon with him he did not use in the attack that killed 10 people, authorities and the gun store owner said.

Gun control advocates said the Boulder massacre may have been prevented had more strict gun control measures been in effect, including strengthening background checks and banning assault weapons, over which US politicians regularly spar under the influence of organized interests.

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, a research project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, 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, Finland has been considered successful in keeping the criminal use of weapons low. Sports and hunting there are acceptable for a gun permit, but self-defense is never a valid basis.

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

Change in attitude

The change in the police attitude was essential, said Martti Lehti, a senior researcher with the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy at the University of Helsinki. Police began 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 he used to kill 10 people the following day.

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

In addition to strict gun control, Finland has close collaboration between the police and health authorities. They contact each other regarding individuals of special concern so as to identify possible violence in advance.

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

Tarja Mankkinen, head of development in the police department in Finland's Ministry of the Interior, said that if a person talks about violence or behaves oddly, a risk analysis is often triggered through friends or relatives who contact the police or health authorities.

"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."

Xinhua - Agencies

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