The nation of Norway was an especially unlikely setting for a shooting rampage that left at least 85 dead. The country of 4.9 million residents has one of the lowest per-capita homicide rates in Europe.
Interestingly, however, gun ownership is relatively common in Norway, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Gun ownership in Norway is common, although strict gun regulations and limitations are in place on ammunition for certain kinds of guns.
According to GunPolicy.org, an Australian university-based website, the estimated number of guns held by civilians in Norway was 1.4 million in 2007, the most recent year for which the site has such statistics for Norway.
Citing the “Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City,” published by Cambridge University Press, the website give the rate of private gun ownership in Norway as 31.32 firearms per 100 people[.]
In the wake of a shooting, after the initial shock and sorrow subside, two reactions predictably emerge — calls for greater civility in discourse and calls for greater gun control. Such was the case, at least, after Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January.
And, indeed, some have already begun to criticize the rhetoric in Europe that has supposedly contributed to the sort of climate of hate that would prompt someone to release fire as at Oslo:
The attacks in Oslo on Friday have riveted new attention on right-wing extremists not just in Norway but across Europe, where opposition to Muslim immigrants, globalization, the power of the European Union and the drive toward multiculturalism has proven a potent political force and, in a few cases, a spur to violence.
The success of populist parties appealing to a sense of lost national identity has brought criticism of minorities, immigrants and in particular Muslims out of the beer halls and Internet chat rooms and into mainstream politics. While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.
“I’m not surprised when things like the bombing in Norway happen, because you will always find people who feel more radical means are necessary,” said Joerg Forbrig, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin who has studied far-right issues in Europe. “It literally is something that can happen in a number of places and there are broader problems behind it.”
Perhaps the calls for increased gun regulations are not far behind. Both reactions are understandable. Natural to want to make sense of senseless violence and even more natural to want to forestall it by tempering tongues and enacting obstacles to gun ownership. But we must not seek solutions where they will not be found.
On some level, perhaps the wisest course is to remain a while longer in the spell of shock and grief that evil casts, allow ourselves to feel the full extent of its horror — precisely so we will realize that no carefully crafted words, no perfectly strategized policy will ever eliminate it entirely. Perhaps in that realization we will then awaken to a new realization — that evil will only fully and finally be overcome by something greater than ourselves.
Update: This post originally misidentified Rep. Gabby Giffords as a Republican.