How Sweden became the epicenter of gun deaths in Europe

In early August three people were seriously wounded in a daylight shooting near a shopping center in Kristianstad, southern Sweden.

The previous month, a policeman had been shot while on patrol in a suburb of Gothenburg, the second largest city in the country.

A few days after that event, which had already shocked Swedish society, two hooded men broke into a barber shop in the same city to shoot him ten times to a young client, before fleeing.

These are just three of the more than 180 shooting incidents the police have recorded so far this year.

In the 90s, Sweden was one of the safest nations from Europe, with an enviable quality of life and extremely low crime rates; today it has become the continental capital of shootings.

According to official figures, the Scandinavian country recorded 366 firearm incidents in 2020, which resulted in 47 deaths.

The most alarming thing is that the number of shootings It has not stopped increasing since the 2000s, according to a report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRA).

In 2000, Sweden ranked 18th out of 22 European countries for the number of per capita deaths in shootings. Fifteen years later, in 2015, it became the second European country where being shot is most common; back then it was second only to Croatia.

But in 2018, the last year for which data has been published, rose to unwanted first place in deaths by gunshot in Europe, according to the BRA report, which was carried out with data from the European Statistical Office, Eurostat.


“It is very disturbing and an enigma for those of us who study this problem,” Klara Hradilova Selin, a researcher at the BRA, tells BBC Mundo.

“Crime in general has not increasedIt has actually decreased, but the number of shootings continues to rise, ”he continues.

According to Eurostat, Sweden was the fifth country in the European Union (EU) where the most robberies per inhabitant were recorded on average between 2016 and 2018, behind Belgium, France and Spain.

Four girls hug and stand next to a makeshift memorial at the site where a 12-year-old girl was shot near a gas station in Botkyrka, south of Stockholm, on August 3, 2020.

During that period, 86 robberies were reported per 100,000 inhabitants in the Scandinavian nation, above the EU average of 70.

The country is even more clear from the European average when comparing the numbers of homicides with firearms.

In Sweden it is approximately four deaths per million inhabitants per year, while the average for the other countries included in the study is much lower, 1.6 deaths per million inhabitants.

Even more impressive: Sweden was the only country in the study where firearm deaths increased with respect to the year 2000.

At least three factors

According to Klara Hradilova Selin, the increase is difficult to explain, but there are at least three factors that play a role in the wave of gun killings in Sweden.

“The existence of criminal gangs, drug trafficking and the lack of trust in the police in the suburbs ”, he specifies.

The BRA report notes that more than eight in 10 shootings are related to organized crime, a significantly higher proportion than in other countries.

This type of crime has become one of the biggest concerns for Swedes. A recent survey by the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg found that at 90% of the swedes they would like to see tougher penalties for gang offenders.

The risk factors mentioned by the Swedish researcher are repeated in other European countries, but without the same results. “There are also gangs and drug trafficking in other countries, like France or England, but no other nation has seen the same increase in shootings as Sweden, ”adds Hradilova Selin

“In England and Wales, for example, you can say that there is a similar type of violence on the rise, but via another method: killings committed with knives.”

“However, the context is similar: it happens in suburbs or in depressed areas, the victims are young and there is often a connection with drug trafficking ”.

Most firearm deaths in Sweden occur in men between the ages of 20 and 29.

Stefan lofven

A “not easy” fight

Håkan Jarborg, a police chief in southern Sweden, explains that tackling the rise in violence in Sweden “is not an entirely simple task.”

“Crimes are difficult to investigate. The surviving victims rarely participate in the advancement of research and witness statements are often very scarce, “he told the Göteborgs-Posten, one of Gothenburg’s leading dailies.

Following the latest wave of violence in Sweden that has already led to nearly 30 deaths so far this year, the Swedish government announced in late August that it would seek to change national security laws to allow the police to more easily spy on them. suspected gang members.

“We want to consider the possibility of giving the police authority another key tool to prevent new shootings“, Assured the Minister of the Interior, Mikael Damberg, in a press conference on August 27.

“We will do everything in our power to fight the gangs.”

An integration problem

Another BRA report on crime in Sweden released this month yielded alarming results that have sparked an intense debate about immigration in the country.

According to the new study, those born abroad and their children are between 2.5 and 3 times more likely to be suspected of a crime than those born in Sweden to Swedish parents.

30% of men born in Sweden but whose parents were born in Africa were suspected of crimes between 2015 and 2018.

People who were injured in a shooting at Rasmusgatan in Malmoe on June 13, 2015.

For West Asia, which includes Middle East, the same figure was 24%.

While for Swedes whose parents were born in the country the figure was just 4.8%. Within all this it should be noted that not all police suspects are guilty.

According to the Swedish journalist Håkan Boström, these figures show “clearly” that Sweden has a “difficult problemIntegration ”.

“The most active groups in crime have their origin in the countries from which Sweden has received a large number of refugees: the Middle East and Africa.”

“Is poverty what causes gang culture, drug abuse and poor school results? Or is it the culture of gangs and poor school results in combination with parents’ difficulties in settling down that causes poverty? ”Asks the journalist in an article published at the end of August by the Göteborgs-Posten.

The great challenge for the next government

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is due to leave office soon and his Social Democratic Party has the arduous task of electing a new leader who can convince voters that they can stop the wave of gang violence.

Meanwhile, critics of the government do not miss the opportunity to use crime as a weapon to reach the electorate.

“The state of security is completely dark, but together we can make Sweden safe again,” Oliver Rosengren, Växjö councilor of the Moderate Party, said in May.

“A war on gang crime awaits the next government.”

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