Iceland police have used deadly force for the first time ever, shooting and killing a man in an event which Icelandic officials are saying is “without precedent.” Iceland police and the community are now reeling from their first ever casualty as a result of a police shooting in the country’s history. Officials say the victim, a 59 year old man, who had been allegedly threatening neighbors, forced police to evacuate the building.
Shortly after the evacuation, the man began firing at Iceland police with a shotgun. Tear gas cannisters were fired through the windows in an effort to bring the man down, who lived in the eastern end of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.
After some time Iceland police entered the building and were received with gunfire from the assailant, forcing them to shoot back. The 59 year old man was rushed to a hospital after he was shot, but, was later declared dead, with no motive for his actions revealed.
All efforts to talk the man down and subdue him failed said Iceland police, leaving them to resort to deadly force to prevent the assailant from hurting others.
Two special forces members who were called in to back up the police were injured by shotgun fire.
“Police regret this incident and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the man,” Icelandic police chief Haraldur Johannessen said to reporters. He added that the incident was “without precedent” in Iceland.
Gun shootings in Iceland, and in Europe as a whole, are rare relatively speaking to the rest of the world. In Iceland, police officers on routine patrol don’t carry firearms, and the Icelandic police in total have 1,039 firearms- less than the average New York City police department has in stock at any given time.
Accoring to GunPolicy.org, an international database hosted by the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, “There are 30.3 firearms per 100 people in Iceland. It’s No. 15 in the world per capita. The U.S. comparison: 101.05 firearms per 100 people, No. 1 in the world.”
Iceland’s total gun related death toll for the year 2009 was four. The U.S. saw 31,347 gun-related deaths in the same year.
Why there is such a disparency between the total amount of gun related incidents in Iceland and the amount in the U.S. involves a combination of several factors- cultural, political, social, says observers. The International Business Times in a piece titled “Iceland: Plenty of Guns, But Hardly Any Violence.” said that the low amount of gun violence in Iceland could “possibly be attributed to strict gun control laws in Iceland – a national database registers and tracks all guns, and all gun buyers must be licensed by the state to possess firearms.”
Iceland is in all relative terms a tiny country- with a population of only 322,000 people, it has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The police casualty is a first in Iceland’s long history, and officials say they hope such an incident won’t have to be repeated again.
The investigation continues into the motives for why the 59 year old man began firing at police, and how deadly force could be prevented in the future.
by John Amaruso