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Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Monday, 16 August 2010 12:07 UK

Finland reviews its gun laws after mass shootings

By Tom Burridge
Reporter, BBC World News America

When Finland experienced two school shootings in just 10 months it sparked a national debate about the country's relatively relaxed gun laws, now the government hopes new legislation will reduce the number of guns in the country and make another mass shooting less likely in the future.

Pekka-Eric Auvinen
Pekka-Eric Auvinen apparently selected his victims at random

In 2007, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen walked into Jokela High School in the town of Tuusula where he was studying. He shot seven pupils and the head teacher, before turning the gun on himself.

Nine months later another student walked into his college in the town of Kauhajoki and shot nine pupils and a teacher.

These were Finland's first ever school shootings.

Many believed that Jokela High was a one-off. But after Kauhajoki people began to question the relative ease with which someone can get a license to own a gun.

Even as Finnish politicians were drafting new gun laws another shooting took place. This time there were five victims at a shopping mall in the city of Espoo, near the capital Helsinki.

Those laws are now being considered by parliament but they are attracting strong opposition.

Shooting is a popular sport in Finland and the right to bear arms is enshrined in the country's constitution.

'Too many guns'

According to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group based in Geneva, Finland has 45 guns to every 100 people. That estimate gives Finland the fourth highest civilian gun ownership levels in the world.

FINLAND'S NEW GUN LAWS

The age at which you can get a license for handgun will go up from 15 to 20

People may have to provide proof that they practise sports shooting at a club

Finland’s licensing authority will be able to ask for information about an individual’s mental health before issuing a license

The government says there are too many guns in Finland and estimates its legislation would cut the number of gun licenses issued in half.

Hand guns were used in all three mass shootings in Finland. It is no coincidence then that the biggest change to the country's gun laws would be the age at which you can get a license to own one.

Critics point out that the gunman responsible for Finland's second school shooting was 22, so the new law would have made little difference.

The Ministry of the Interior is confident that by reducing the number of hand gun licenses issued it will make another public shooting less likely in the future.

But target shooting with hand guns is one of the most popular pastimes in Finland and opponents say the laws will stop young people taking up the sport.

The owner of the Helsinki Shooting Club, Otso Vainio, describes the new laws as a "knee-jerk reaction" to the tragic events in Tusuula and Kauhajoki.

"What you're doing is just treating the symptoms instead of the underlying problem," he explained.

"If someone is planning to go out on a rampage and commit murder suicide and they're truly dedicated to that which is a terrifying thought, there's no way we can keep them from getting their hands on a firearm."

Shrine therapy

Jarmo Koskinen stands infront of a shrine he made to all ten victims of the Kauhajoki shooting
Marko Koskinen's trophies sit above the shrine his father Jarmo built

Marko Koskinen was 21 when he was shot dead at his college in the town of Kauhajoki where he was studying in 2008.

In Marko's old room his dad Jarmo built a shrine to remember all of the victims.

"It was a kind of therapy for me. I wanted to collect all the pictures and I go there very often and every time I go there I think why did we have to lose all these young lives that had such a bright future, for no reason.

The gunman at Kauhajoki was student Matti Saari. Before committing mass murder Saari had posted a video on YouTube which showed him firing a handgun.

Police officers watched the video and interviewed Saari, but for some reason, which remains unclear they decided not to revoke his gun license.

Jarmo Koskinen blames the police for not acting.

He welcomes parts of the new legislation, such as raising the age at which you can get a license for a handgun. But he does not think new gun laws are necessary.

He wants reassurances that Finland's current gun laws are properly followed and a tragic mistake like the case of Kauhajoki is never allowed to happen again.



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SEE ALSO
Finland mourns shooting victims
08 Nov 07 |  Europe
In pictures: Finland school shooting
07 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Finland
06 Feb 12 |  Country profiles

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