Safe Nest No More

We Finns have traditionally thought of our country as a safe little corner of Earth, far away from the crime and unrest of the big world. Even though the Finns own quite a lot of firearms (actually the third largest number of firearms per person in the world I believe), shooting incidents and other acts of violence are something that happens in America, or at least Someplace Else. This safety is as much just a hopeful vision as reality: there’s quite a lot of domestic violence here, as there is everywhere else, for example, and every now and then you read in the yellow papers about somebody chasing their family with a shotgun, usually drunk. There are of course drugs in Finland too, and if you go to the wrong parts of the cities at night, you increase your chances of getting mugged quite a lot. But still the public perception has been that Finland is a safe and idyllic place.

Until recently. A year ago today, an 18-year-old student walked into his high school in Jokela and started shooting around. In the end he killed six students, the principal, the school nurse, and himself. This had a huge impact on Finns. School shootings were something that just didn’t happen here. There was an outrage over how this could happen. The usual suspects like violent movies and video games were blamed. Action was promised. But this was after all a single incident committed by a clearly disturbed individual, so little by little the furor died down.

But then it happened again, in Kauhajoki this September. The place was a University of Applied Sciences, the shooter was 22 years old, and ten people plus the shooter himself died. There were similarities between the cases: both shooters were young men who attacked the place where they studied. They both used a .22 caliber handgun, bought at the same place. Both posted videos of themselves shooting guns on YouTube and posted hints on the net about what they were going to do right before the events. They left behind messages saying they hated mankind. There have been some suggestions that the shooters may have known each other.

If one time is an isolated incident, two must surely be a serious trend. This seems to be the leading thought in much of the discussion that has followed the events of Jokela and Kauhajoki. And, as is typical, knee-jerk reactions are the most common ones. The panic response has been to demand a lot of things from the government: a ban on all handguns (which I don’t think would solve anything—that these two used a handgun doesn’t mean the next person wanting to commit a massacre couldn’t use a shotgun or get an unlicensed handgun; in my opinion everybody should know how well total bans on anything tend to work, and besides, the shooters’ licenses could have been revoked already under current legislation if there were enough resources to follow all the applications through thoroughly), metal detectors at schools (which would have done nothing in these two cases: the Jokela shooter started shooting on the schoolyard, and the Kauhajoki shooter entered the building through the basement; and nobody has said anything about the metal detectors needing full-time guards to be hired to man them), refusing gun permits from people under 18 (both shooters were over 18), blocking YouTube (because naturally it’s not possible to do any harm without posting a video on YouTube first), banning Internet use from young people (yeah, that’ll work in modern society, and there sure weren’t any crimes committed by young people before the Internet). People like to blame things, like violent computer games and horror movies, and in this case even atheism (because no Christian or a member of any other religion ever did anything violent, you know). I’m surprised nobody tried to blame the massacres on metal music this time (at least that I saw), and I think role-playing games were also left alone for once.

There are no easy solutions to problems like this. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at what the government is doing. They’ve promised stricter gun restrictions (against any data supporting the conclusion that this would change things, or specifying what exactly they mean) and given instructions to the police that before granting a handgun permit, a statement from a doctor is required about the applicant’s mental state (but not defined any guidelines about what kind of a statement this would need to be, allocated any resources for this, or even stated that the doctor should be someone who specializes in mental health issues). As usual, it seems it’s more important to be seen doing something, anything, to appease the public.

Meanwhile, surprisingly few politicians have replied to questions about having reduced the resources for children’s mental health care (that started during the previous recession in the early 1990s) and demanding the schools to get more results with less money and bigger classrooms, with little time for teachers to get to know their students and no professional help for mental problems at schools nowadays. (Of course this wouldn’t be a miracle cure either—the Kauhajoki school had their own school psychologist—but having some means to help the kids cope with their problems and making support and treatment available to those who need it might be a good start.) It is easier to close one’s ears and eyes and repeat the mantra about how people must care more about each other than do anything concrete to reduce the waiting period to get to see a mental health professional when needed (which can be months or more, even with cases classified urgent). Especially because this would need money which would then have to be found somewhere. This of course goes for everybody: it’s easier to demand that the powers-that-be fix things than to try to do something yourself (and I’m sorry but joining a Facebook group doesn’t count as doing something).

I don’t have the answers either, but it seems obvious to me that treating just the symptoms (with make-believe remedies that don’t work in the real world) and not even trying to find and cure the cause is not the right solution. The collective sense of security of the nation has been shattered, and I’m just hoping it will be restored soon so that these things could be discussed rationally and the road to real solutions started in the near future, and not all resources wasted on snake oil of simplistic political promises.