European court: Finland failed to seize school shooter's gun

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A European court ruled Thursday that Finnish authorities failed to perform their duty of diligence by not confiscating a 22-year-old man's gun before he had the chance to shoot and kill 10 people at a school, one of the worst homegrown attacks in the Nordic country’s history.

The European Court of Human Rights noted in its 6-1 decision that Finnish police had interviewed the assailant, Matti Saari, the day before the Sept. 23, 2008 attack when he drew attention as an active member of various online forums glorifying school shootings. He also had an earlier conviction on drunk driving.

A local police station previously had issued a gun license to Saari, who falsely claimed in his application to have joined a local shooting club for target practice. He then acquired the semi-automatic pistol that he used to kill nine students and a teacher in a vocational school classroom in Kauhajoki, Finland.

Saari killed himself soon after the attack.

Relatives of the victims brought the case against the Finnish state to the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France. The court ordered the Finnish state to pay 30,000 euros ($35,000) to each victim’s household, and 31,572 euros to one applicant.

The relatives had asked the court to rule on whether the Finnish authorities' actions amounted to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. It concluded they did, violating the convention's second chapter, titled “Right to Life."

The court said that Saari's online posts, while not containing any threats, “had cast doubt on whether he could safely remain in possession of a weapon."

The court said the crucial question in the case was “whether there were measures which the domestic authorities might reasonably have been expected to take to avoid the risk to life from the potential danger the perpetrator’s actions had given an indication of."

In ruling for the plaintiffs, the court found that seizing Saari’s weapon would have been “a reasonable measure of precaution given the doubts about the perpetrator’s fitness to possess a dangerous firearm.”

The Finnish authorities “had thus not observed the special duty of diligence incumbent on them owing to the particularly high level of risk to life inherent in any misconduct involving firearms,” the court said.

A Finnish commission which investigated the shooting found that Saari had suffered from mental problems for a period of over 10 years and his condition had worsened at the time of the shooting.