x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Finland's PM calls for stricter gun laws

Police say that the victims of a school shooting in western Finland were eight women and two men.

tudents hold candles in the evening at the Kauhajoki vocational high school in Kauhajoki, southwestern Finland, on September 23, 2008. A gunman went on a rampage for an hour and a half at the Kauhajoki vocational high school on the morning of September 23, killing at least 10 people before shooting himself in the head.
tudents hold candles in the evening at the Kauhajoki vocational high school in Kauhajoki, southwestern Finland, on September 23, 2008. A gunman went on a rampage for an hour and a half at the Kauhajoki vocational high school on the morning of September 23, killing at least 10 people before shooting himself in the head.

KAUHAJOKI, Finland // Solemnly leading his country in a day of mourning, Finland's prime minister called for tighter gun laws today as he visited the site of a fiery school massacre that left 10 victims dead. A student, 22, armed with a .22 calibre handgun and petrol bombs opened fire on classmates at a vocational college yesterday, killing 10 others and burning their bodies before turning the gun on himself. Police say that the victims of a school shooting in western Finland were eight women and two men. The National Bureau of Investigation says all the women were students, while one of the men was a teacher and the other a student.

It was Finland's second deadly school shooting in less than a year. The prime minister Matti Vanhanen said it was time to consider restricting access to guns in a country with deeply held hunting traditions and over 1.6 million firearms in private hands. Finland ranks in the top five nations in the world when it comes to civilian gun ownership. "After this kind of behaviour, my personal opinion is that we need to study if people should get access to handguns so freely," Vanhanen told reporters in Kauhajoki, 290 kilometres north-west of Helsinki. "I'm very very critical about the guns and during next few months we will make a decision about it."

In addition to the 10 killed, several other people were wounded, but doctors said all had been released from hospitals except a female student, 21, whose condition was described as satisfactory. Vanhanen and other ministers visited Kauhajoki, a town of 14,000 people, as flags flew half-staff on a national day of mourning. Grieving residents placed candles and flowers outside the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality as police started lifting some of the cordons. The government also called for an investigation into how police handled the case because the gunman was questioned by officers only a day before the carnage because of YouTube videos in which he was seen firing his gun.

Police said they released him on Monday because he hadn't broken any laws and was not deemed a threat to others. They also let him keep the pistol for which he acquired a license in August. "It was a good and an important thing that the police got these hints in advance and that they reacted to the hints and the person was interviewed," Vanhanen said. "We will obviously investigate what the foundation was for the decision to let him keep his weapon."

Finnish media identified the gunman as Matti Juhani Saari, a 22-year-old student at the school, which offers courses in catering, tourism, nursing and home economics. Police declined to name him, saying he did not have a previous criminal record. Witnesses said panic erupted as the masked gunman, dressed in black and carrying a large bag, entered the school just before 11am, and started firing in a classroom where students were taking an exam.

Investigators said they knew the names of the 10 victims but official identification was hampered because the bodies were so badly burned. The gunman shot himself in the head and died hours later at a hospital. Police said his motive was unclear, although police investigator Jari Neulaniemi said the gunman left two handwritten messages saying he had planned the attack since 2002 and that he hated the human race.

The rampage bore eerie similarities to another school massacre in Finland last year in which a gunman, 18, killed eight people and himself. Both gunmen posted violent clips on YouTube prior to the shootings, both were fascinated by the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado, both attacked their own schools and both died after shooting themselves in the head. A video clip posted on the internet by the alleged gunman showed him pointing his gun to the camera and saying "You will die next" before firing four rounds.

At the UN in New York, the Finnish president Tarja Halonen said the shooting showed the need to watch over the activities of the young on the internet and to renew discussions about handgun legislation. After last year's massacre, the government promised to raise the minimum age for buying a gun from 15 to 18, but that legislation was never passed. That change would not have stopped either of the recent school shooters, who were 18 and 22-years-old.

* AP