On Sept. 23, 2008, a culinary student named Matti Juhani Saari walked into a vocational college in Kauhajoki, Finland, drew a semi-automatic pistol, and killed 10 people before taking his own life. Less than a year earlier, an 18-year-old fatally shot eight people at a high school in Tuusula, 50 km north of Helsinki, before killing himself. In the wake of Saari’s rampage, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen promised a grieving nation that “events like this would not happen again.” Now, he is trying to back up those words with legislation.
Finland, population 5.3. million, has 650,000 licensed gun owners, ranking it fifth in civilian gun ownership per capita behind the United States, Yemen, Switzerland and Serbia, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. But since the shootings, the country has been debating whether to introduce greater restrictions on gun ownership. Last week, a Finnish government commission set up to investigate the shooting in Kauhajoki proposed a ban on semi-automatic handguns. The commission’s report noted that Saari “used a self-loading or semi-automatic firearm, which was small-calibre but still capable of inflicting serious damage.” In addition, the commission suggested that the minimum age for owning a gun be raised from 15 to 20, and that permits be temporary and require two years of proven shooting practice. Parliament is now debating whether to go ahead with the commission’s recommendations.
But no matter how strict Finnish law gets, there are no guarantees future massacres will be thwarted: last March in Winnenden, Germany, a 17-year-old walked into the secondary school he graduated from and killed 15 people before taking his own life. At the time, German law prohibited anybody under the age of 18 from buying a handgun, and required an ownership licence and background check for anyone who wanted to purchase one. Since then, Germany has passed legislation to implement an electronic, nationwide weapons registry and has approved random home inspections of gun owners.