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Finns propose ban on handguns after shootings

HELSINKI — A Finnish government commission on Wednesday proposed a ban on semiautomatic handguns after two school shootings in recent years left 20 people dead.

The ban, which needs parliamentary approval, would sharply reduce the number of legal weapons in a country that ranks among the world's top five in civilian gun ownership.

"We've had a very weapon-friendly culture," commission chairman Pekka Sauri said. "In carrying out the proposals we would, of course, pay compensation to anyone who turns in weapons."

The Nordic nation of 5.3 million has 650,000 licensed gun owners. Of some 250,000 handguns, more than 200,000 are semiautomatic, according to Sauri.

The recommendation came in a report on an attack in September 2008, when a 22-year-old gunman killed nine fellow students and a teacher before shooting himself at a vocational high school in Kauhajoki, western Finland.

Less than a year earlier, a teenage student fatally shot eight people and himself at Jokela High School in Tuusula, near the capital, Helsinki.

Both school gunmen fired handguns in YouTube clips posted before the shootings, shot themselves in the head and used similar handguns in the massacres. They had both been teased at school and said they hated the human race.

The report said that the gunman in Kauhajoki "used a self-loading or semiautomatic firearm, which was small-caliber but still capable of inflicting serious damage" and recommended that "only guns that do not allow the easy infliction of such carnage be available for hobby purposes."

The commission also said that the minimum age of handgun ownership should be raised from 15 to 20, and that gun permits be made temporary and require at least two year's proof of shooting practice.

After the two shootings, police have clamped down on handgun permits imposing stricter control and tighter scrutiny of permit applicants.

Finland has a long tradition of hunting. It is ranked fifth in civilian gun ownership per capita, after the United States, Yemen, Switzerland and Serbia, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey said in 2007 in its most recent report on civilian firearms.

Pekka Aho, commission board member and Inspector General of the Finnish Police, lodged a dissenting view on gun ownership in the recommendations of the nine-member commission.

"I believe that the practice of responsible gun sports should be preserved in Finland," Aho said. "This recommendation, however, would not remove illegal semiautomatic handguns in Finland ... and in practice it would put an end to sport shooting, even Olympic events which require the use of semiautomatic handguns."