Police in Iceland on Monday shot and killed a 59-year-old man who they say had fired a shotgun at police officers who were attempting to enter his apartment building. It’s a sad story to be sure, but why is it garnering international headlines? Mostly because, by all accounts, it seems to be the first time anyone in Iceland can remember police ever shooting and killing someone. Yes, you read that right: ever.
The BBC has the broad outlines of the apparent fatal first: Police responded this morning to reports of a man firing his shotgun inside his Reykjavik home. After he continued shooting as authorities attempted to contact him, officers fired tear gas into his apartment and then proceeded to enter the apartment building, at which point the man allegedly opened fire again, injuring two members of the special forces in the process (one was struck in the face, the other in the hand). Police then responded with deadly force.
According to Icelandic police chief Haraldur Johannessen, the fatal police shooting is “without precedent,” and local media outlets likewise report that it appears to be the first such incident in the nation’s history. It’s unclear, however, whether that history dates back only to Icelandic independence in 1944 or, much more unlikely, further back toward when the land was settled in the late 9th century. Regardless, we’re talking about at least several generations here.
NPR’s Two-Way turned to international database GunPolicy.org to provide a little context in regards to the role of guns in Iceland (where officers don’t normally carry firearms while on regular patrols) versus the United States: There are 30.3 firearms per 100 people in Iceland, good for no. 15 in the world per capita. Stateside, meanwhile, there are slightly more than 101 firearms per 100 people, good for, you guessed it, the no. 1 slot.
In 2009, the most recent year GunPolicy.org has data for, there were just four gun-related deaths in Iceland, a total that doesn’t exactly have anyone scrambling to code a daily gun-death tracker. In the United States, meanwhile, that tally reached 31,347. Of course, we’re comparing Icelandic krækibers to American apples here. The United States has more than 314 million people, while Iceland boasts a more St. Louis-sized population of about 320,000. Still, a little back-of-the-envelope math tells me that U.S. gun deaths still outpace the Icelandic tally on a per capita basis—and it’s not even close (about 1 gun-related death per 80,000 people vs 1 per 10,000). As the International Business Times pointed out in the wake of last year’s Sandy Hook shooting, one likely reason (no doubt among many) for that is that Iceland has much stricter gun control laws than we do, including a national database that registers and tracks all guns.