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Finger on the Trigger
by Asa Butcher
2008-11-27 12:09:23
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Antti Vaittinen and Mikko Leinonen have many years of firearms experience, including work with the security services. They are two of three instructors at Helsinki Shooting Club, a subterranean shooting gallery located in Annankatu that requires passage through five doors, two of which are armoured. That is only the building's security - personal security is an entirely different matter.

"New members must first undergo a 30-minute introduction session to the safety rules, gun handling and basic markmanship before they enter the range. During this process I am also assessing the member's psychological state," explains Mikko following my own initiation. "Here you need to book a time by phone, need an ID, then to take the theory and finally the practical; if we feel somebody is not fit to handle a gun they will be not be permitted on the range," states Antti.

Before I walk through another armoured door to the range, Antti reminds me of the two basic safety rules, "Always take your finger off the trigger and keep the gun pointed at the target or the floor; if there are any problems we will know before you do." The smell of gunpowder instantly reminds me of a firework display, but this is soon forgotten as I put on the ear protectors and take position behind the white line. I am about to handle a loaded gun for the first time in my life.

It is a .22 semi-automatic and any childhood ideas of gunplay are rapidly replaced by a deep respect for a potentially lethal object. Mikko explains that the .22 is a good gun for beginners because the smaller calibre means less recoil and less noise. Still, this doesn’t relax me at all.

On Antti's signal I approach my gun and begin to run through a mental checklist of dos and don'ts before remembering Mikko's words, "Shooting demands focus; there's no time to think of anything else when you are shooting." I pick up the gun, extend my arm and look down the barrel at the circular target hanging 25m away - my mind has been mysteriously wiped clean of everything. I am concentrating so hard on the target that Antti has to remind me to keep breathing.

Everybody is familiar with the Dirty Harry line, ""Did he fire six shots or only five?" However, I really did lose track of how many shots fired and I have not known a half-an-hour pass so quickly since my driving test many years ago. "Shooting is similar to driving," says Mikko, "Many people like driving, but are not interested in what happens under the bonnet. People don't like guns, but they like shooting. Some people drop away when they find that perhaps guns are their thing and not shooting. There is a big difference between a gun enthusiast and a shooting enthusiast."

There are more male customers using Helsinki Shooting Club, but other than that there is no clear difference in demographic. "Between a quarter and third of our customers bring their own guns, but most buy the ammunition here - they avoid keeping it at home," observes Antti, who doesn't actually own his own gun. The law requires gun owners to keep the gun, the bullets and the magazine in different places when transported or stored. There are approximately 650,000 firearms permit holders in Finland - 60% of which are issued for hunting weapons, suggesting that the majority of guns are based in rural Finland.

Finland's gun laws were slightly changed after Jokela shooting last year. Prior to the shooting, the age limit to get a gun permit was 15 years-old; the limit has now been raised to 18 years-old. As shooting and hunting are popular with under-18s, they need parental approval to get a licence. Since the Kauhajoki shooting, several shooting incidents were reported in the media, among them a 43-year old Finn killed his family with a gun and two middle-aged couples committed suicide with firearms, suggesting that tightening the gun law just isn't enough.

In the Finnish style of "hurry up slowly", we read on the Ministry of the Interior website that "the proposal for urgent amendments to Finland’s gun law will be submitted to Parliament next spring." Although important, changing the law will only be a superficial fix in solving the greater problem of what actually motivated individuals to commit mass murder.

"The way people are introduced to shooting is the problem. Somebody borrows a friend's or family member's gun and learns from them, so a whole law is circumvented. There are very few places where this is done properly; there should be tighter screening," says Mikko. This is one aspect. Another lays in the head of the beholder. My own experience firing a gun was powerful and has opened my eyes to the thrill that some people get from shooting, but Finland still needs to address a larger problem that is seemingly affecting some in society.

First published in Agenda magazine

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Asa2008-11-27 12:11:06
Sorry about the strange delay today... The new articles were put online this morning but our database seemed to just wipe everything! Weird!

Eva2008-11-27 17:35:59
Looks like you could give James Bond a run for his money now... ;)

Sand2008-11-27 19:44:32
Back in 1944 when I shot the army carbine and the 45 caliber pistol and the recoiless "grease gun" in basic training for record I did alright but never found guns fascinating. Luckily I never had to use one in combat For three days afterwards my ears rang continuously. Never needed the damned things since and happy to be without them.

AP2008-11-28 20:30:41
"There is a big difference between a gun enthusiast and a shooting enthusiast."
Yeah, right... there's a big difference between a vodka and whisky enthusiast and an alcoholic, or a bungee jumping enthusiast and an actual jumper... er... sometimes. These guys work for a Shooting Club - which means they're not very impartial. If business goes well, they keep their jobs.

"My own experience firing a gun was powerful and has opened my eyes to the thrill that some people get from shooting"
I suppose it can be exciting for some people. But then, so many harmless things can be exciting too. Other people can't stop thinking that it is exciting + deadly. No problem there at all. The problem is when you can't really understand what deadly to others means, or in fact don't care about it when you balance that fact with the thrill of shooting... human targets.

HK2009-03-31 02:12:39
"Yeah, right... "

Many people like listening music, but don´t play any instrument and people also like paintings, but don´t paint... There is a difference.

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