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School shooting revives Finnish gun debate

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Latest update : 2008-09-24

After 22-year-old Matti Saari killed 10 students on Tuesday, Finland's leaders have vowed to tighten gun control legislation; a debate opened after a similar tragedy last year. The country has the world's third-highest rate of gun ownership.

UNITED NATIONS - Finnish President Tarja Halonen said on Tuesday the "shocking" news of a deadly shooting of 10 people at a school in western Finland will start a national dialogue on gun ownership in the Nordic nation.

 

"This news we received today was shocking, sad news about the shooting incident at a vocational school in Kauhajoki," Halonen told a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

 

"We have to have very serious discussions and studies on what to do," the president added.

 

Among the topics for discussion will be gun control and the differences between hunting rifles and hand guns, said Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.

 

In an echo of last year's deadly attack at a high school in Finland in which eight people died, the gunman in Tuesday's incident, 22-year-old Matti Saari, posted menacing comments and videos of himself wielding a gun on the Internet before going on the shooting rampage.

 

Watch the killer's YouTube video in The Observers.

 

"Finland is a northern country with large areas of nature and hunting is one of the common hobbies, and so of course there are thousands and thousands of people who do it quite legally. But that means also that many people have many weapons," Halonen said.

 

Halonen said although the Internet and Web discussion forums were the domain of the younger generation, adults "should also be active and see that the rules in real life are also the rules that people have to respect in all circumstances. We have to follow the situation there."

 

Stubb said the government is discussing the issue of possible gun controls in the country, where gun ownership rates are among the highest in the world, but crime rates in general are low.

 

"Basically we are in the process of discussing the matter," Stubb said in response to a question. "There is a handgun directive which is channeled through the European Union and our legislation falls within the realm of that legislation."

 

Finland, the minister said, has "very strict gun laws" despite a high number of 1.6 million registered arms in the country of about 5 million people.

 

"But I am sure that now in Finland we will start a discussion also on the difference of what could be called hunting rifles and just basic traditional hand guns. This discussion will start now after the incident."

 

Officials in Finland said police were in contact with Saari a day before the shooting after they were alerted to his Web footage. He had a temporary permit for a pistol.

 

Stubb noted that a government plan to raise the minimum age for gun ownership to 18 from 15 after last year's shooting had not taken effect but added, "I am sure this whole package with the arms will be reopened after this incident."

 

Date created : 2008-09-24

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