The shooting rampage that left at least 85 dead at a youth camp near Oslo stunned Norway, a nation of about 4.9 million residents who are far less accustomed to gun violence than the U.S.
Authorities have described the 32-year-old man arrested in connection with the shootings, as well as a bombing in downtown Oslo that left at least seven others dead, as a far-right Christian fundamentalist. A chilling manifesto attributed to the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, that was discovered Saturday contains an image of him pointing a weapon toward the camera.
Homicide -- whether gun-related or otherwise -- is rare in Norway, which reports one of the lowest per-capita homicide rates in Europe.
A report released last year by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services examined the role of mental illness in the actions of known perpetrators there, and also noted that in more than 80% of the killings the victims were known to the assailant.
Gun ownership in Norway is common, although strict gun regulations and limitations are in place on ammunition for certain kinds of guns.
According to GunPolicy.org, an Australian university-based website, the estimated number of guns held by civilians in Norway was 1.4 million in 2007, the most recent year for which the site has such statistics for Norway.
Citing the “Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City,” published by Cambridge University Press, the website give the rate of private gun ownership in Norway as 31.32 firearms per 100 people, less than the reported rate in the U.S. of 88.82 firearms per 100 people.
Five homicides committed with a gun were reported in Norway in 2005, the latest year for which the site has data confirming firearm-related murders in the country. In comparison, the U.S., which has a population more than 50 times greater, had 10,158 gun-related murders the same year, or 2,000 times that of Norway.
A report last year by the Norwegian Broadcasting Co., or NRK, estimated that there are more than 1.5 million firearms in Norway, being used not only for hunting but also for shooting, one of Norway’s most popular sports.
The Norwegian Rifle Assn. has 32,000 members in 520 clubs, according to NRK, and Norwegian athletes are perennial favorites in international biathlon competitions, which combine skiing and target shooting.
In addition to guns held legally, the NRK estimated another half a million had been smuggled into the county illegally.
The rules for having a gun at home have been tightened in recent years, with gun safes becoming mandatory, according to local Norwegian news reports, The end cap of guns must be removed before storage, and those without a gun safe must remove components of the weapon before it is stored, essentially disabling it. In addition, Norwegians have been told the vital parts of the weapon should be locked up separately.