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27 May, 2010 06:54

Firearms possession issue splits Finland

Finland has one of the highest concentrations of gun owners per capita in the world. However, after three deadly shooting sprees in the past couple of years, campaigners say it is about time the issue was reassessed.

Gun shop owner Mika Nevalainen says the only gun-related problem he knows of is that not enough people are buying them. Nonetheless, there is a stream of customers coming into his weapons shop in central Helsinki.

With a population of just over five million, there are more than 1.5 million registered guns, making it one of the highest concentrations of personal firearms in the entire world.

“There is a common understanding that we have to tighten our laws,” says Lisa Timonen, Head of the Firearms Administration at the National Police Board.

Radical measures have been proposed to deal with the country's gun problem. They include a ban on semi-automatic handguns, which are powerful and easy to conceal. Parliament has so far rejected them – much to the annoyance of the police.

Mika Nevalainen says it is problems in society – not the guns – that are to blame for the problems.

“These people, if they didn't get a gun, of course they have different ways of doing something. We had a bomb in a shop a few years ago – well, maybe the guy didn't get a gun,” says Nevalainen.

To legally own a handgun a Finnish citizen has to attend a shooting range for at least two years.

“We've been here for ten years and we’ve trained literally tens of thousands of people who came here for the first time. Half a dozen, maximum, have actually caused any concern for us,” says shooting range owner Otso Vainio.

A pro-weapons advocate, Otso Vainio claims that the hysterical media has distorted the scope of the problem.

“The [average] amount of people killed with legal guns in Finland, I can’t remember exact figures, but it was two point something annually. Thirty-nine people die from the heat of the sauna annually.”

The gun debate will continue to divide Finland, but if further shooting tragedies happen, it may eventually spur Finnish lawmakers to make citizens surrender their firearms.