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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 5.5.11




Handgun Availability

And how it affects gun violence

By Jonathan Bowers

One day in the middle of a criminology class this semester at the University of Oslos law faculty, we did a comparison between the level of gun availability and violence in Norway and the U.S. Before I begin, however, I want to offer a short explanation of Norwegian gun culture.

Norway's police officers do not carry firearms on their person and have never been regularly armed. When firearms are needed, they typically have to call and get permission from the police chief. Such policies have led to only eight officers being shot and killed since 1945. In article by Johannes Knutsson and Jon Strype of the Norwegian National Police Academy entitled "Police Use of Firearms in Norway and Sweden: The Significance of Gun Availability," the authors explain how approaches to dangerous situations has a fairly dramatic effect on the level of gun use by police officers and ensuing, if any, harm and death from gun use. (Sweden, in contrast to Norway, has an armed police force, much like the U.S.) Such a culture is a carryover from Norwegian society's outlook on guns as a whole and how their laws reflect that.

While one-third of Norwegians ã out of a population of 4.8 million, much like Oregon ã have guns used almost exclusively for hunting and sport (shotguns, semi-automatic, bolt action) and obtaining gun ownership and use permits involve a lengthy screening process. Handgun ownership is strictly regulated.

That being said, what we found in our comparison was this:

The problem in the U.S. is not the general level of violence, but the fact that violence is more lethal. The relevant variable was not guns generally, but handguns specifically, which account for the overwhelming number of gun violence deaths in the U.S. Part of our examination of evidence was drawn from the U.S. Department of Justices statistics on gun violence.

The point of my commentary is to show that, while Norway does not have constitutional right to own a gun, the countrys law dictating gun ownership policy and restrictions (LOV 1961-06-09 nr. 1), especially around handguns, is such that it could, in some form, be applied to a state and not infringe on citizens Second Amendment rights.

I am not suggesting that guns should be banned or Americans should be disarmed; that would be a ludicrous proposition in light of the Second Amendment. However, I feel that Norway has an answer to begin an enlightening and open dialog of how to craft a reasonable gun ownership and use law ã specifically regarding handguns ã while at the same time curtailing the ease to which people have been able to obtain a handgun, which I noted earlier is a relevant variable in lethal deaths in the U.S.

This isn't about making the U.S. into Norway, but a way of addressing gun, especially handgun, violence and availability without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of U.S. and Oregon citizens.

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Jonathan Bowers is a graduate student in the UO School of Journalism and Communication.