After this week’s shootings at Jokela School in Finland, there has been the inevitable round of hand-wringing about how such a thing can happen. How?

Finland has the highest rate of gun ownership in Europe (over half the population owns a gun). In fact is has the third-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, after the US and Yemen. Apparently, more people own guns in Finland than in Iraq.

Finland also has the highest murder rate in Europe.

Connected? Well, not necessarily, obviously (see below!) – but, equally obviously, if an 18 year old boy with a Stalin / Hitler fetish, a natural selector manifesto and a T-shirt that says “Humanity is Overrated” can get a gun legally and then shoot his classmates with it 3 weeks later, then something may be wrong with the world.

That boy did not need a gun for hunting. He did not need it for self-defence.

“But guns don’t kill people, people do.” Yes. People with guns. You can’t get rid of the people, but you can get rid of the guns. So why aren’t we getting rid of the guns?

ITN news
The Age (Aus)
Helsingin Sanomat


And here’s something else that irritates me.

How many times have I heard (rhetorical question, evidently) a debate that goes like this…

Person A says: The increasing exposure of young people to violence – both real and fictional – through the media has led to increasing incidence of violent behaviour by young people.

Person B says: All children are exposed to violence through the media, but they don’t all turn out to be sociopathic murderers, so there’s absolutely no connection at all. It’s just because [insert pet explanation here, probably something to do with bad parents].

Both of these “arguments” are completely illogical and clueless.

Person A is suggesting that just because violent culture and violent behaviour have gone up at the same time (correlation) must mean that one causes the other (causation) and that just isn’t the case. Things can happen at the same time and be unrelated. There may be a rational basis for investigating a possible link – but correlation is not causation and you simply cannot reason from one to the other without additional evidence.

The rise in mobile phone ownership has happened at the same time as a rise in divorce rates. Oh no! It must be because mobile phones make it easier to have affairs, leading to greater risk of marital breakdown. Or maybe it is because more people are divorced and they need use a mobile phone to talk to their kids now the family no longer lives together. Or maybe, you know what, maybe the two things are COMPLETELY UNRELATED.

Person B is suggesting that, just because not every person who sees a violent incident on TV goes out and shoots his friends, violence on TV has nothing to do with violent behaviour. This person is even more clueless than person A.

Because guess what? Not every single person who smokes a cigarette gets lung cancer. And not every person who ever handled asbestos gets asbestosis. And not every formula fed baby gets gastroenteritis. And not every person who crosses the road without looking gets run over. Yet in all these cases, the first thing is accepted as a (not the only) cause of the other, or as a factor that materially increases the risk of the other. And in just the same way, violent TV and violent games may well be a cause of violent behaviour. It may not be a simple link from A to B – just as the link between smoking and cancer isn’t a simple one from A to B – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Which all leads me to say – no, we aren’t making any sense yet.