Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Innocent Blood

Yesterday my shocked countrymen learned of yet another bloody school shooting within a year. This time a young man of 22 entered his classroom in a small vocational college, in an equally small town, Kauhajoki. With a legally purchased handgun he shot ten students plus the teacher to death, then started a fire in the classroom that has made identifying the victims difficult. Finally when the police and firemen arrived, he turned the gun to himself, after shooting at them first unsuccessfully. This was in an eerie way a copycat act of a high school shooting late last year in another small town, Jokela, where eight people died; even the weapon used was identical.

Finland has the world’s third highest gun ownership, after the U.S. and Yemen. The reasons are quite different from here: with the vast forest-covered land hunting is very popular. Most weapons are indeed hunting rifles and shotguns; handguns are more rare and usually found in shooting ranges and concealed pistols for self-defense are not allowed. In this case, however, the young man had been granted permission to purchase and use a handgun just last month, his first firearm. People had been alarmed by videos made my Mr. Saari on YouTube and notified the authorities. The shooter was actually interviewed by the local police just the day before, but no reason to revoke his license was found, in spite of a type of candle associated with death, funerals and cemeteries found lit on the school yard a couple days prior.

Today people are asking why this was allowed to happen with all the warning signs. There is a lot of finger-pointing, at the policeman who interviewed the killer, letting him go, and at the government minister who had promised a change after the killings of last year. Typical to politics here and there, such promises seldom count. In spite of the high scores that prove Finnish children are better educated than their counterparts in other countries (South Korea is their main rival), obviously the emotional well-being among the young people doesn’t rank as high. The Finns resemble in some ways Native Americans with their troubles. Neither hold their liquor very well and although my countrymen do financially very well, this success has resulted in unhappiness and problematic mental issues. Back when life was simpler, it was also healthier emotionally.

Unlike in the U.S., Finland’s constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to bear arms. Nevertheless, they are commonplace and lethal as guns always are. There is no powerful Finnish NRA lobby but the culture of owning a firearm goes back a long time. Even in my youth the priest and organist of the town’s main church were avid hunters.

The sign of changed times was evident in the news coverage of the country’s leading daily. They pointed out how this tragedy had placed Finland in the global headlines and almost bragged that it was item number two in France, right after the American financial chaos. Had they checked the BBC news on the web, it was actually the first one. However, it is perverted to be proud of such publicity. Helsingin Sanomat used to be a most respectable publication; in recent times more and more people see their journalism resembling British tabloids. They also publish an afternoon paper (available in the morning) which totally falls in the latter category. Attitude of the press has changed as it has here, and neutral, trustworthy news coverage in difficult to find.

What an interesting language Finnish is: the word for attitude is “asenne” which comes from the root “ase”, meaning a weapon.

At least hunting over there, with dogs leading the way in the thick of a forest, can be considered a sport. Shooting helpless wolves from a helicopter hardly qualifies as such. It would only be fair if the helicopter one day crashed in the snowy wilderness and the pack of wolves turned from hunted into hunters, dreaming of a tasty meal, lipstick and all.

MIKSI (WHY), headline in the Ilta-Sanomat extra