Happy Sytennde Mai and gun laws in Norway

syttende_mai_drinking_glassToday is Sytennde Mai or Norwegian Constitution day. Here is more about this big Norwegian celebration day:

The 17th of May (Syttende Mai) is Norway’s Constitution Day, a wonderful spring holiday celebrated with red, white and blue ribbons and flags, national costumes and big smiles as Norwegians everywhere mark the historic signing of their Constitution (Grunnloven) in 1814. That year marked the beginning of Norway’s gaining her independence from Sweden, fully realized in 1905.

The 17th of May evolved over the years in Norway as a day for people to rally for political change or to stand unified during the German occupation (1940-45), when open celebration of the holiday was strictly forbidden. Today, thousands march in children’s and people’s parades all over the country and wherever Norwegians are found–expressing their cultural pride, joy in springtime and honoring those citizens who created Norway’s constitutional government, founding her independence.

The Syttende Mai parades are not military but of Norway’s citizens, marching to the bright music of community and school bands. Decorations of leafy birch branches–in celebration of winter’s end–and Norway’s flag of red, white and blue make for a festive atmosphere.

Both my husband and I are of Norwegian ancestry. My maternal grandfather emigrated from Norway. My husband’s maternal grandparents, along with several of his aunts and uncles, also emigrated to Minnesota from Norway. We have visited with and stayed with relatives from both of our families on a trip to Norway many years ago. We happened to be in Oslo for the May 17th celebration. It was a great experience to be there for the festivities and see the national costumes and even get a glimpse of the King and Queen waving to the crowds from the palace balcony.

In July of 2011 the Norwegians experienced a horrendous mass shooting. Anders Brevik, a right wing extremist, killed 77 people in the worst attack since World War ll. From this article:

The 2011 Norway attacks were two sequential lone wolf terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population, and a Workers’ Youth League (AUF)-run summer camp in the Oslo region on 22 July 2011, claiming a total of 77 lives.

The first was a car bomb explosion in Oslo within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Norway, at 15:25:22 (CEST).[1] The bomb was made from a mixture of fertiliser and fuel oil[13][14] and placed in the back of a car.[15] The car was placed in front of the office block housing the office of Prime MinisterJens Stoltenberg and other government buildings.[16] The explosion killed eight people and injured at least 209 people, twelve of them seriously.[10][11][12]

The second attack occurred less than two hours later at a summer camp on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud. The camp was organized by the AUF, the youth division of the ruling Norwegian Labour Party (AP). A gunman dressed in a homemade police uniform and showing false identification[17][18] gained access to the island and subsequently opened fire at the participants, killing 69 of them,[7][8] and injuring at least 110 people, 55 of them seriously;[11][12] the 69th victim died in a hospital two days after the massacre.[9] Among the dead were personal friends of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the stepbrother of Norway’s crown princess Mette-Marit.[19]

It was the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II,[20][21] and a survey found that one in four Norwegians knew “someone affected by the attacks”.[22] The European Union, NATO and several countries around the world expressed their support for Norway and condemned the attacks. On 13 August 2012, Norway’s prime minister received the Gjørv Report which concluded that Norway’s police could have prevented the bombing of central Oslo and caught the gunman faster at Utøya, and that more security and emergency measures to prevent further attacks and “mitigate adverse effects” should have been implemented on 22 July.[23]

My city had a beautiful memorial service for the victims of that awful incident. I attended the service and was touched by the outpouring from local folks of Norwegian ancestry and many who just came to express their concerns and sympathies.

Let’s look at more about Norwegian gun laws and how this lone wolf terrorist obtained his weapons and ammunition. More from the above article:

Breivik spent six days in Prague in late August and early September 2010. He chose the Czech Republic because the country has some of the most relaxed laws regarding guns and drugs in Europe. Following his Internet inquiry, Breivik noted that “Prague is known for maybe being the most important transit site point for illicit drugs and weapons in Europe”. Despite the fact that Prague has one of the lowest crime rates among European capitals,[33] Breivik expressed reservations about his personal safety, writing that he believed Prague to be a dangerous place with “many brutal and cynical criminals”.[34] (…)  

Breivik had several fake police badges printed to wear with a police uniform, which he had acquired illegally on the Internet, and which he later wore during the attack.[17][18] Contrary to his expectations, he was unable to get any firearms in the Czech Republic, commenting that it was the “first major setback in [his] operation”. In the end, he concluded that Prague was “far from an ideal city to buy guns”, nothing like “what the BBC reported”, and that he had felt “safer in Prague than in Oslo”.[32][34][36]

You may remember that I wrote about the gun laws in several countries on a recent river boat cruise of the Danube. The Czech Republic was one of them, along with Germany, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. Brevik was mistaken. Though the Czech Republic’s gun laws are somewhat looser than other European countries, they are stricter than he was led to believe and he was very wrong about Prague in particular. The only danger we faced there was from the crowded streets and making sure our personal belongings were safe from pick pockets.

But I digress.  You can see from this section of the above linked article that Brevik had to lie in order to get a gun through legal channels in Norway since their laws are pretty strict about a permit to own handguns:

Originally, Breivik intended to try to obtain weapons in Germany or Serbia if his mission in Prague failed. The Czech disappointment led him to procure his weapons through legal channels.[36] He decided to obtain a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock pistol legally in Norway, noting that he had a “clean criminal record, hunting license, and two guns (a Benelli Nova12 gaugepump-action shotgun and a .308bolt-action rifle) already for seven years”, and that obtaining the guns legally should therefore not be a problem.[32]

Upon returning to Norway, Breivik obtained a legal permit for a .223-caliberRuger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine, ostensibly for the purpose of hunting deer. He bought it in late 2010 for €1,400 ($2000). He wanted to purchase a 7.62x39mmRuger Mini-30 semi-automatic carbine, but did however for unknown reasons buy the Mini-14.

Getting a permit for the pistol proved more difficult, as he had to demonstrate regular attendance at a sport shooting club.[34] He also bought ten 30-round magazines for the rifle from a United States supplier, and six magazines for the pistol (including four 30-round magazines) in Norway. From November 2010 to January 2011 he went through 15 training sessions at the Oslo Pistol Club, and by mid-January his application to purchase a Glockpistol was approved.[37][38]

Brevik actually had to go through training sessions in order to get a permit to purchase a gun. What a novel idea! And where did he obtain the ammunition?:

Anders Behring Breivik wrote in a 1,500-page manifesto that he bought 10 30-round ammunition clips for his .223 caliber rifle from an unnamed small U.S. supplier, which then in turn acquired the clips from other suppliers. Norway forbids the sale of clips for hunting rifles that hold more than three bullets, according to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Breivik wrote in his manifesto that while he could have purchased the high-capacity magazines in Sweden, they would have been significantly more expensive than ordering them from a U.S. supplier. He wrote that he spent $550 for the 10 clips. He also described legally buying four 30-round clips for a Glock handgun in Norway.

Not surprising. Everyone knows that it’s easy to obtain guns and ammunition in the U.S.

So here is another look at the gun laws in Norway. Norway ranks 44th in the world for the number of civilian owned firearms.  The rate of gun homicides in 2012 was .10 per 100,000, far lower than that of our own country. The rate of gun suicides in Norway was 1.63 per 100,000, higher than gun homicides as it is in almost all democratized, developed countries. In Norway, as in most other countries, licensing and registration of firearms and owners is required and carrying guns in public is prohibited.

There is, as I have written many times before, an unmistakable link between strong gun laws and low gun civilian deaths and injuries. This is a case for our advocating for stronger gun laws in our own country. Norwegians and most other countries are using common sense when it comes to protecting their children and communities from devastating gun violence. Occasionally a mass shooting occurs in one of these countries even with stronger gun laws. In some countries, a change to stronger gun laws has occurred after high profile mass shootings. The shootings in Dunblane, Scotland and Port  Arthur, Australia are two examples. 

In Scotland, 16 children and one adult were shot and killed in 1996 by a “loner obsessed with guns”. And here is how the UK responded to this horrendous shooting:

In the wake of the 1987 Hungerford massacre, in which one lone gunman killed 16 people, Britain introduced new legislation — the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 — making registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

Within a year and a half of the Dunblane massacre, UK lawmakers had passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in mainland Britain, giving the country some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world. After both shootings there were firearm amnesties across the UK, resulting in the surrender of thousands of firearms and rounds of ammunition.

Britain has never had a “gun culture” like that of the United States, but there were about 200,000 legally-registered handguns in Britain before the ban, most owned by sports shooters. All small-bore pistols, including the .22 caliber, were included in the ban, along with rifles used by target shooters. Penalties for anyone found in possession of illegal firearms range from heavy fines to prison terms of up to 10 years.

“It was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened in this country and it united the country in a feeling that we had to do something,” Gill Marshall Andrews, of the Gun Control Network, told CNN. “And I don’t think that it would have been possible to make the kind of progress that we have made without that tragedy.”

Now there is the kind of common sense not seen in the U.S. even after the slaughter of 20 6 and 7 year olds in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. In Australia, something similar happened after the massacre of 35 people, also in 1996, at Port Arthur in Tasmania. A disturbed young man accomplished this awful shooting. Let’s take a look at what happened after that shooting:

It moved public opinion.In the wake of the shooting, “a national upwelling of grief and revulsion saw pollsters reporting 90–95% public approval for stringent new gun laws.”

A conservative politician took the lead.Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard spearheaded a push by Australian states and territories to severely restrict gun ownership that year, in what came to be known as the National Firearms Agreement.

It targeted the kinds of guns used in massacres.“As the Port Arthur gunman and several other mass killers had used semi-automatic weapons, the new gun laws banned rapid-fire long guns, specifically to reduce their availability for mass shootings.”

It encouraged people to turn in guns. The government “bought back more than 650,000 of these weapons from existing owners, and tightened requirements for licensing, registration, and safe storage of firearms.”

It wasn’t free. “Total public expenditures were about A$320 million (US$230 million), or approximately A$500 per gun, which isn’t much less than what it costs to buy one.”

But it was paid for. ”The buyback program was financed by an additional 0.2% levy on national health insurance.”

Again, this was the kind of common sense not seen in America. And the result?

Gun homicide rates fell.In the 7 years before the NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate per 100 000 was 0.43 (range:0.27–0.60), whereas for the 7 years after NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate was 0.25 (range: 0.16–0.33).” (…)

  1. In the 18 years up to and including 1996, the year of the massacre at Port Arthur, Australia experienced 13 mass shootings. In these events alone, 112 people were shot dead and at least another 52 wounded (table 1). In the 10.5 years since Port Arthur and the revised gun laws, no mass shootings have occurred in Australia.” [Mass shooting defined as five or more dead. None have occurred since the publication of the paper in 2006, either. -eds.]

  2. Gun suicides declined. “In the 18 years (1979–96) [before the law], there were 8850 firearm suicides (annual average 491.7). In the 7 years for which reliable data are available after the announcement of the new gun laws, there were 1726 firearm suicides, an annual average of 246.6.

Let’s get this straight. America loses over 30,000 of its’ citizens to firearms injuries every year. The majority of these are suicides followed by homicides and then accidental gun deaths. This is the American tragedy and we can’t let it continue.

Anyone who says that gun laws don’t matter is deceiving you. The American corporate gun lobby has managed this deception for many years now with little scrutiny from the media and too many of our politicians. There is proof that stronger gun laws lead to fewer gun deaths. So what we need in our own country is a common set of facts that are known and believed by our elected leaders and the general public. For this is how change can happen. This is how we can make sure that our nation’s public health and safety epidemic of gun violence can be addressed in a reasonable way. And by reasonable I mean that we need to make sure that all guns are kept from some people who shouldn’t have them. It’s pretty simple. Those who shouldn’t have them are children, suicidal teens and adults, domestic abusers, felons, those with adjudicated and severe mental illness, terrorists, gang members, and others on the prohibited purchasers list now who can get guns anyway without background checks and through straw purchasing, stolen guns and unsecured guns in homes.

We can save lives if we put our minds to it, deal with the issue from a fact based perspective, have a change in our conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities and put our heads together to protect our children so they can grow into adults who contribute to their society and reach their human potential. Too many lives are cut short before that happens.

So back to Norway and Sytennde Mai– I hope all of my Norwegian relatives had a wonderful celebration. And I hope they will all be safe from harm. I do know that they are much less likely to be harmed by firearms than their cousins in America. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s get to work to change laws, hearts and minds.