STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Finland violated the rights of the victims of a 2008 school shooting by giving the perpetrator a gun permit, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday.
Judges at the Strasbourg-based court found that in granting a gun license to the hospitality management student who would go on to kill 11 people and injuring as many more, the Finnish government failed to protect its citizens’ right to life.
Nineteen relatives brought the complaint before the rights court, arguing that the police precinct which granted the gun permit only a month before the tragedy.
“The domestic authorities have not observed the special duty of diligence incumbent on them because of the particularly high level of risk to life inherent in any misconduct involving the use of firearms,” the court found in a 6-1 decision.
In 2008, 22-year-old student Matti Juhani Saari shot and killed 10 students and one staff member at the Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences in the western Finnish town of Kauhajoki. He also threw Molotov cocktails in laboratory facilities and shot at responding police officers, who were forced to retreat. Saari escaped the scene and shot himself in the head two days later.
Saari obtained his license on August 7, 2008, and purchased the Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol a few days later. In September, the police became aware of Saari’s internet activity, which included a comment about a film on the Columbine High School massacre “being the best entertainment ever.” Fearing Saari may have been planning an attack, officers were sent to confiscate the weapon but he wasn’t home. Five days later, Saari attacked the school.
“Given the information that had come to the attention of the police authority, the gun could and should have been seized according to domestic law,” the judges found.
Helsinki argued that the case had been sufficiently handled domestically. The Finnish government launched an investigation directly after the shooting and brought charges of negligent breach of an official duty and grossly negligent homicide against the Detective Chief Inspector who actually issued the permit. The police officer was convicted of breach of duty, but acquitted of the homicide charge in 2011.
Founded in 1959, the Court of Human Rights is an international court established by the European Convention on Human Rights that handles cases on human, civil and political rights. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust domestic remedies before bringing complaints before it.
The seven-judge panel unanimously decided in favor of Finland on a second accusation that the government failed to properly investigate the shooting.
The families were awarded 300,000 euros ($350,000) in damages and 65,000 euros ($76,000) for expenses. Both sides have three months to appeal the decision.