For the first time in Iceland’s modern history, the island country has recorded its first ever fatal police shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday
The deadly shooting happened early Monday morning .in a shootout between police and a man who was allegedly firing at cars from his apartment window.
Two police officers were hurt but those injuries were not serious, police said.
Police first received a call for help at 5 a.m. from neighbors. The suspect is described as a 59-year-old man from eastern Reykjavik. He was rushed to the hospital where he was died of his wounds.
"Police regret this incident and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the man," Icelandic Police Chief Haraldur Johannessen told reporters in Reykjavik.
Police in Iceland very rarely use guns. Most officers are not armed. The police officers who killed the suspect were part of a special tactical unit that does carry guns. This is the first fatality in more than 200 years since Iceland gained its independence from Denmark.
Iceland has a population of 321,000. By comparison, the city of San Francisco has a population more than twice that size.
High gun ownership
Iceland had one of the lowest crime rates in the world and it also has a high gun ownership rate. There are about 90,000 guns registered in the country, or a little more than one gun for every four residents. GunPolicy.org reports that Iceland ranks 15th in the world in per capita gun ownership.
The LA Times notes that 97% of the residents of Iceland identify themselves as part of the middle class. Andrew Clark of Boston's Suffolk University Law School, the author-researcher of a BBC crime study, suggested that the absence of class distinctions may explain the low incidence of violent crime. But Clark also noted that unlike the US, being able to acquire a gun in Iceland involved a more rigorous system of checks, including a medical examination of the applicant and a written test.
The BBC report entitled “Why is violent crime so rare in Iceland?” The reporter wrote, “Frankly, there is no perfect answer as to why Iceland has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world.”
Iceland immigration, gun laws and crime rates
Neither the BBC nor the LA Times story touched on Iceland’s very strict immigration policy and how that may impact crime. Since it is an island country, Iceland is able to more easily enforce its immigration laws than most other countries.
In an article on how to immigrate to Iceland, Ehow notes, “Some say Iceland's immigration laws are the strictest among Western Democratic societies. If you are not from another Nordic country, permanent residence may prove to be a challenge in Iceland. “
But before you hire a lawyer to fight to immigrate to Iceland, the country is not without its problems. Iceland's low crime rate apparently hasn't done much to cheer up the country. A study earlier this year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Iceland had the highest rate of antidepressant use of any country in the world ,with nearly one in ten of the population on medication to treat depression.
Gun ownership, crime, culture and immigration debate
The story of Iceland’s first fatal police shooting in modern history will undoubtedly shed light on gun policy and on how Iceland has been able to maintain a low crime rate and high gun ownership.