Iceland sees first fatal police shooting

The 69-year-old country has seen a unique low in violent crime and shootings.

Sam Jasenosky

Icelandic law enforcement shot and killed someone last week for the first time since the nation’s founding in 1944.

The man police killed reportedly shot first. He also had a history of mental illness.

Most police officers in Iceland are typically unarmed because the country has such a low violent crime rate. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found in the 2011 Global Study on Homicide that Iceland’s murder rate was never higher than 1.8 per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2009.

The officers who killed the man were part of a special forces team, the Viking Squad, which is allowed to carry firearms.

Haraldur Johannessen, national commissioner of the Icelandic police, said the murder was unprecedented for the country.

Iceland ranks 15th in the world for gun ownership: 90,000 guns are in the country with a population of about 325,000. However, gun violence is rare. In 2009, there were only four recorded gun-related deaths in Iceland, including a suicide and an accidental shooting.

Iceland’s low violent crime rate can be attributed to a few things.

It might be due to the strict gun control laws in the country. Gun owners in Iceland must register with a national database, and the state licenses all gun owners. Additionally, the Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper said there are very few handguns in the country, and the majority of weapons are shotguns and hunting rifles.

The process for obtaining a firearm in Iceland is difficult. Steps to acquire a gun include a medical examination and a written test.

Another explanation for the low violent crime rate is the fact that Iceland has virtually no class divide. A study of the Icelandic class system by a University of Missouri master’s student found that only 1.1 percent of participants identified as upper class and 1.5 percent identified as lower class. The vast majority of participants (97 percent) identified as upper-middle class, lower-middle class or working class.

Some Icelanders believe that equality is the biggest reason for the nation’s lack of violent crime. The country’s social welfare and education systems also promote a culture of equality.

Statistics from a 2004 National Safety Council report show that in the U.S., a citizen is eight times more likely to die because of a police officer than a terrorist.

When you consider that Iceland has been a country for nearly 70 years and just saw its first police-related death, it seems that Iceland is doing something the U.S. isn’t.

It’s managing violent crime.

This Saturday marks the anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, when a man shot and killed 20 children and six adults before turning a gun on himself.

As we reflect on that tragedy, we should also reconsider the way guns are regulated in the U.S.

Iceland provides an example for the rest of the world through its low crime rates and few police-related deaths. The U.S. needs to look to Iceland to improve the way it regulates guns and maintains its unique gun culture.