Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Does Iceland Have So Few Officer-Involved Shootings Compared To The U.S.?

It's the scenario that all law enforcement officers train for, but hope never to use:  a seemingly routine traffic stop or investigation of a suspect suddenly turns into a life-and-death shootout.  It happens all the time in the United States, where there are as many guns as there are citizens.

In just the last two weeks here in Oregon, there have been five law enforcement shootings that I'm aware of:

  • December 6: Silverton, Oregon:  Sheriff's deputies chased a suspect in a stolen vehicle. While searching for the suspect, there was a shootout between the suspect and at least a couple deputies in a Christmas tree field.  Both the suspect and one of the deputies were wounded.
  • December 6: Halsey, Oregon:  A Salem police detective was passed by a reckless driver on Interstate 5. When the detective pulled over the driver, the driver then got out and threatened the detective with a gun.  The detective then shot and wounded the driver.
  • December 3: Fairview, Oregon:  Police and sheriff's deputies performed a welfare check on a man acting erratically at an apartment.  The suspect then fired upon by the officers, and was subsequently shot and wounded.
  • November 23: Bend, Oregon:  An officer responding to a reported break-in shot and killed the suspect.
  • November 21: Eugene, Oregon: A school resource officer at Churchill High School made a traffic stop of a man who was riding a mini-bike next to school. The driver then attacked the officer, armed with a gun, knife, and hatchet. The officer then shot and killed the suspect on school grounds.
That's one law enforcement personnel injured, three suspects wounded, and two suspects killed, in just two weeks, in Oregon.

And those, of course, don't represent the many other non-law enforcement shootings and gun crimes in Oregon in that time.  You can see these and others reported at the Oregon Shootings Facebook page.

It was with those shootings in mind that I read a surprising article about Iceland.  You see, on Monday, December 2, Iceland had its first-ever fatal shooting of a suspect by law enforcement.  The suspect died.

That's right.  Let me re-state this for the record:  In the 69-year history of independent Iceland, no law enforcement person there has ever had to shoot to death a suspect while in the line of duty!

In fact, most police don't even carry firearms.  Violent crime is almost non-existent there.  From an article:

"The nation does not want its police force to carry weapons because it's dangerous, it's threatening," Arnorsdottir says. "It's a part of the culture. Guns are used to go hunting as a sport, but you never see a gun." 
In fact, Iceland isn't anti-gun. In terms of per-capita gun ownership, Iceland ranks 15th in the world. Still, this incident was so rare that neighbors of the man shot were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film.  
The Icelandic police department said officers involved will go through grief counseling. And the police department has already apologized to the family of the man who died — though not necessarily because they did anything wrong. 
"I think it's respectful," Arnorsdottir says, "because no one wants to take another person's life. "There are still a number of questions to be answered, including why police didn't first try to negotiate with man before entering his building. 
"A part of the great thing of living in this country is that you can enter parliament and the only thing they ask you to do is to turn off your cellphone, so you don't disturb the parliamentarians while they're talking. We do not have armed guards following our prime minister or president. That's a part of the great thing of living in a peaceful society. We do not want to change that. " 
Did you catch the details there??  The police department apologized to the suspect's family!  And even the prime minister and president don't have armed guards!

And neighbors "were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film."  There's a reason why other countries compare such shootings to America.

Iceland rates 15th for civilian gun ownership rate out of 178 countries, according to (the U.S. is 1st).  There are 30.3 guns for every 100 citizens there (the U.S. now has 101/100 people).  These guns are almost exclusively used for hunting and target shooting, not self-defense. Despite all these guns, there have only been 5 shooting deaths in the last year in Iceland, with four of those being suicides.  Compare that to about 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S., 11,000 of those being homicides (you can also see crime statistics at the Icelandic police page).

So what is Iceland doing right?  According to one article, there is almost no drug problem, and because Iceland is a socialist nation, there is almost no class distinction.  But the real kicker is gun regulation.

Despite being awash with guns, those guns are heavily regulated to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.  Unlike the United States, Iceland requires gun licensing, gun registration, strict recordkeeping by dealers and manufacturers, and markings and tracing of all guns owned and sold.  Iceland also takes part in all United Nations programs to prevent illegal trade of small arms, such as the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty and the U.N. Firearms Protocol, neither of which the U.S. has signed.  As with other such nations around the world that have such regulations, shootings are almost non-existent.

If only it could be the same here!  Unfortunately, police have to arm themselves against the legion of criminals and mentally insane who can, so easily, arm themselves with guns in America.  Sadly, far too many have to draw their weapons in the line of duty, and a disturbing number wind up getting shot by the suspect.  The Officer Down Memorial webpage memorializes them.  At least 27 have been shot to death in the line of duty in 2013.  Recently I wrote about one who died here in Oregon in early November, reserve officer Robert Libke, shot to death by a mentally-unstable man who had set fire to his own home.

Sadly, here in America, we have a culture of violence, where the "open carry" gun crowd, like this advocate, call for open insurrection and even attacking police if they "feel" their rights as gun owners are being infringed.  "Do you have the spine to cross that line?" said that advocate.  With an atmosphere like that, and easy availability of guns to criminals, it is little wonder that police have a dangerous job here.

Our men and women in blue are heroes every day.  Let's protect them by demanding rational gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.