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Finland: Electronic Firearms Registry Part of Integrated Police Records System

(Sept. 24, 2012) It was reported on September 6, 2012, that <?Finland's police force will have a new, electronic registry of firearms owned by citizens, which will streamline the processing of license applications through the direct entry of information into the data system, reducing paperwork. The registry will be inaugurated in November; the current system was adopted in 1997. Although the number of visits applicants will have to make to a police is halved, "the new system will not bring significant changes to police field work" until it is paired with the "Vitja data system," scheduled to be inaugurated in 2014. (Police to Get New Firearms Registry Soon, HELSINGIN SANOMAT (Sept. 6, 2012).)

Finland will reportedly “be the first country in the world to combine all police records in a single system,” i.e., Vitja, construction of which began at the end of 2011; it is that estimated that the system willl cost €22 million. Vitja will enable officers on patrol and police vehicles to have access to the same information as officers in police stations. They will also have mobile devices or tablet computers to “enable them to record a report of an offence for example in the middle of a street.” (Finnish Police Are to Combine Their Registers, HELSINGIN SANOMAT (Feb. 13, 2012).)

The Vitja system, combined with the new firearms registry, will enable police to conduct automatic cross-referencing of gun license information. At present, separate computer checks must be run. The launch of the new registry is a year and a half overdue; it was to have been replaced in June 2011, with the entry into force of revisions to the Firearms Act on June 13, 2011. (Id.; Ampuma-aselaki 9.1.1998/1 [Firearms Act Jan. 9, 1998, No. 1] (as last amended June 8, 2012), FINLEX; Firearms Act (1/1998; amendments up to 804/2003 included), FINLEX.)

Certain problems will remain with the new system, however. Because the old registry’s information will be directly transferred to the new one, mistakes and inaccuracies, which are deemed too costly to rectify, will come with the transfer. This includes the “often incorrect” serial numbers of guns, making identification of stolen weapons difficult. (Police to Get New Firearms Registry Soon, supra.) In the future, through such measures as the training of new specialized weapons instructors, it isexpected that the registration process for new weapons will be smoother.Another shortcoming is that in some of the police files registered information is missing, resulting in citizens having legal weapons for which there is no record or in an insufficiently detailed record for a licensed weapon. (Id.)

The revision of the Firearms Act in the aftermath of two school massacres in Finland in 2007 and 2008 is credited for a “sharp decline” in handgun license applications. The Act tightened restrictions on issuance of handgun permits, resulting in handgun sales declining “to less than a tenth of the previous level.” Chiefly because of fewer applications, there was also a decrease of 20% from 2011 in the total number of new gun licenses granted in the first half 2012. (Changes in Firearms Legislation Sharply Reduce Demand for Handguns, HELSINGIN SANOMAT (Aug. 6, 2012).)

On August 26, 2012, however, the Minister of the Interior called for stricter gun safety laws, after two children died as a result of accidental shootings. Päivi Räsänen characterized current legislation on ordinary weapons’ storage as “vague and open to interpretation.” She stated that this issue, as well as such matters as whether young children should have the right to carry guns on hunting trips, should be considered in the Weapons’ Safety Working Group, a body she formed in April 2012 that is scheduled to issue a report by year’s end. (Interior Minister Calls for Improved Firearms Safety After Two Children Die in Gun Accidents, HELSINGIN SANOMAT (Aug. 27, 2012).)