Jukka Huusko: Again we ask: what is wrong with us?

The view from Finland

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When Pekka-Eric Auvinen, a high school student, used a gun to slaughter six classmates nearly a year ago, the shock reverberated around Finland. This cannot be allowed to happen again, we all said. Less than a year on, it has happened again. And it's like having the same nightmare twice.

Once again Finns are having to ask: what is wrong with us? Where is our society going? Are we doing so shamefully little for unstable members of our communities that they are resorting to extreme violence in this way?

It may come as a surprise to people in Britain, but Finland is quite a violent country. Perhaps violent crime does not exceed levels seen in London, but we have a bigger problem with violence than our near neighbours in Scandinavia. Violence, both domestic and in the streets, is relatively common. This, I believe, is partly a function of excessive alcohol consumption.

It is perhaps also related to family breakdown, isolation and loneliness. Increased wealth has perhaps made Finland a harsher, more competitive place.

Who knows, perhaps the increase in violent crime also has something to do with our national character traits. We have singular problems with communication and expressing emotion. At the same time Finland is a rich country; our economy is doing well, certainly in better shape than others in western Europe. Given our relative wealth, we urgently need to ask why we are doing so little to extend mental health services, especially for students, the young, and those facing big pressures in their lives.

The other obvious question now is: why is it still so ridiculously easy to get a gun in Finland? Anyone aged over 15 and who belongs to a shooting or hunting club can legally own a firearm. It's not unusual to get your first gun as a teenager, especially in the countryside. And military service means 90 per cent of males are able to shoot a gun. My father has three shotguns and a rifle, and that's not at all unusual.

While few homicides in Finland are linked to hunters, or hunting guns, there is a proliferation of small firearms and handguns and the controls surrounding all guns are simply too lax. The police are supposed to vet gun owners before licences are issued, but clearly the system is not working.

Yesterday's carnage in Kauhajoki will force us to have the discussion on gun laws we should have had a year ago. There may well be political resignations and the rules will no doubt be tightened up. Maybe something will finally change, but for the students who died in their classroom, it will be too late.

The writer is a journalist with the Finnish daily newspaper Helsingen Sanomat

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