(Note: This is the “extended version” of a column I wrote for the Swedish School of Social Science’s student magazine, Smocka. If you’re interested in seeing the column as it appeared in the magazine, check it out here.)
Back home in the U.S, I live less than 2 hours drive from Ferguson, Missouri, an infamous example of the problem of guns in America. The shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in August 2014 sparked national outrage and made headlines around the world, as a problem that has existed for quite some time was thrust into the global spotlight once more.
Unsurprisingly, the United States leads the world in gun ownership. Astonishingly, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that there are more firearms in the country than people. “Gun culture” is a deeply rooted part of the American psyche, and is fiercely defended and perpetuated by many politicians and advocates. That being said, I was surprised to learn how many guns there are here in Finland. Honestly, I was under the impression that the Nordic countries were a kind of gun-free utopia, but this is not true. Despite a death rate due to firearms about one third that of the United States, Finland ranks fourth in the world for gun ownership per capita.
The most striking statistic I learned concerns gun use by the Finnish police. In 2013, the police in Finland fired just six bullets. Six. In 2012, 409 people were shot and killed by the police in the United States. In the most recent incident to garner worldwide coverage, a homeless man was shot in Los Angeles on March 2, the 252nd person to be killed by the police in LA since 2000.
My Finnish peers have assured me that gun policy and regulation here is far from perfect, and I’m sure that’s true. But I continue to long for the day when America can experience a paradigm shift away from aggressive gun culture. I doubt most Americans could even imagine a police force that doesn’t use guns, but I can. Police officers should be approachable, not intimidating; respected, but not feared.
Of course, any attempts to reduce the number of guns the U.S– both in the hands of police and criminals– would be a tremendous logistical and political challenge. We may never achieve it, but the success of countries like Finland gives me hope.