Copenhagen mall shootings: Why do gun attacks appear to be increasing in Scandinavia?

When news broke of a mass shooting in the usually peaceful city of Copenhagen this weekend, it was the second time in less than a month of a deadly gun attack in a Scandinavian country.

Danish police said on Monday morning that the 22-year-old man who was apprehended after the shooting was “known” to medical services and had a history of mental health problems. They added that the brutal shooting spree in a shopping mall which killed three people and left another critically injured, did not appear to have targeted any specific demographic of victims.

"Our assessment is that the victims are random victims. That it is not motivated by gender or anything else," Copenhagen's police chief Soeren Thomassen told a news conference on Monday morning.

The attack in Norway last month, which saw a 42-year-old man open fire on three locations in central Oslo, killing two people and leaving 21 seriously wounded, was deemed to be an act of terror, by a man who had appeared to target the Pride celebrations going on in the Norwegian capital.

Yet, while the tragedies appear for now, at least, to have entirely different motives, they have undoubtedly raised questions as to why gun violence appears to have increased in Scandinavia in recent years.

Jonas Gahr Stoere, the prime minister of neighbouring Norway, said that Scandinavian countries are working to strengthen the goal of "creating safe communities that prevent mental illness and radicalisation".

"There is still a lot we don't know about why the perpetrators in Oslo and Copenhagen committed the terrible acts, but regardless of the motive and background, our answer must be clear: we stand together in the face of violence and hatred,” he said.

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Denmark shooting: Gunman kills three and leaves three critically injured at Denm...
Police stand on the site of the Fields shopping mall, in Copenhagen, one day after a deadly shooting which left three people dead and several others wounded.

Norway has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a far-right gunman, Anders Breivik, killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.

In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s shooting was the worst gun attack in Denmark since February 2015, when a 22-year-old man was killed in a shootout with police after going on a shooting spree in the capital that left two people dead and five police officers wounded.

In neighbouring Sweden, capital Stockholm has become one of the worst places in Europe for gun violence. In 2021, police figures show there were at least 342 shootings and 46 gun related murders, an increase from 25 shootings in 2015. Experts have claimed that a widening gap between rich and poor communities have fuelled the increase. Meanwhile, a Europe-wide analysis published last year found that Sweden was the only European country which had seen an increase in gun-related deaths since 2000.

Norway, Denmark and Sweden are among few countries in Europe to still have national service for young people, which some have argued offers the opportunity to learn how to use firearms. Gun laws differ slightly between the countries, however, licences are needed in all to own a gun, granted mainly for hunting or sport shooting.

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