Why do Finns own so many guns?

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Sept. 23 2008 12:40 PM

Packing Heat in Helsinki

Why do Finns own so many guns?

Last week, a gunman in Finland posted on the Internet a video of himself firing a gun and saying, "You die next." Days later, he killed 10 people, prompting government officials to re-examine gun-control laws in the country. In November 2007, after a similar shooting, Michelle Tsai asked why Finns have the world's third-highest rate of gun ownership.

"Sturmgeist89." Click image to expand.
Finland shooter Pekka-Eric Auvinen

An 18-year-old in Finland shot and killed eight people at his school on Wednesday. The killer, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, then committed suicide by turning his .22-caliber gun on himself. Although gun violence is very rare in Finland, the country has the highest rate of firearm ownership in Europe and the third highest in the world, behind only the United States and Yemen. Why do so many Finns own firearms?

Advertisement

They're hunters. The Finns have hunted and fished for food for thousands of years, with agriculture only catching up as a major food source in the 20th century. Today, hunting remains a popular weekend, or even after-work, activity. Finland is one of the largest European countries, and there are ample grounds for hunters. (Forests cover more than half of the country.)

According to the Finnish government, the country has 1.6 million registered weapons and 650,000 people with firearm permits. That means about 12 percent of the population owns a weapon of some kind. More than half the permits are for hunting, which is usually done with rifles and shotguns. The rest of the permits are for target practice, which can involve handguns. The student in Wednesday's shooting was a member of the Helsinki Shooting Club, which has 1,500 members. (Other sources cite different gun-ownership rates for Finland; one study (PDF) estimated 41 to 69 privately owned firearms for every 100 civilians.)

Hunting is closely regulated by the Finnish government. A would-be hunter must pass a written test on game biology, legislation, and management before he can purchase a hunting permit. You also must pass a rifle-shooting test and a background check before you can obtain a firearm license. A hunter must also be licensed for the number and type of animals he plans to kill. (The most popular targets include moose, ducks, geese, bears, foxes, and hares.) Teenagers who are at least 15 but younger than 18 can apply for a firearm license as long as they have parental permission. This week's school shooter received his license a few weeks ago.

Finland is more gun-friendly than some other European nations. In September, the country resisted an EU proposal to raise the legal age for arms possession to 18, arguing that restricting hunting for the young would result in "highly emotional and strong reactions in Finland against the EU as a whole." Aside from hunting, guns are also part of Finland's strong military tradition. Young men in Finland tend to be familiar with firearms since almost all of them join the army for compulsory service at some point.

While Finns have a reputation for violence, firearms almost never enter the picture. Finland does have the highest murder rate in Western Europe, but those cases—commonly related to alcohol or domestic abuse—often involve knives rather than guns.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer .

Explainer thanks Kari Mokko of the Embassy of Finland, Washington, D.C.; Andrew Nestingen at the University of Washington; and Hanna Snellman at Lakehead University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Learns That Breaking Up a Country Is Hard to Do

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Movies
Sept. 19 2014 2:06 PM The Guest and Fort Bliss How do we tell the stories of soldiers returning home from war?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.