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World News

Finns see little chance to prevent school shootings

TUUSULA, Finland (Reuters) - Five months after an 18-year-old student killed eight people at a Finnish school before turning the gun on himself, authorities say they can do little to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

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A police investigation that wrapped up on Thursday concluded 18-year-old gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen acted alone in the November 7 shooting. In the days and hours before the massacre the teenager posted messages detailing his intentions on the Internet, including a YouTube video clip.

Police said Auvinen’s online relationship with a foreign girl ended days before the rampage, Finland’s deadliest school shooting. The killer chose his victims at random, walking down corridors and firing at whoever came his way, including the headmistress and school nurse.

The avid Internet user, who admired Adolf Hitler and called the handgun he used in the shooting “Catherine”, was a victim of bullying, according to a 600-page report on the investigation.

He began planning what he dubbed a “main strike” against the school in March 2007, writing in his diary he would “kill as many of you bastards as possible”.

The report concluded there was little authorities could do avert a similar school shooting occurring.

“We cannot predict particular incidents and the reasons for their happening,” said Heidi Peltonen of the Board of Education.

“But we know what factors create safety and security and those that create anxiety and we can impact these in many ways.”

Finland’s justice ministry has set up a committee to look at ways to avert such tragedies and to improve security in schools.

It is waiting for a new law to be ratified by parliament so it can access confidential information on the shooting. The head of the panel, Tuulikki Petajaniemi, told Reuters the group hopes to come up with recommendations by year-end.

While there have already been some regulatory changes it is still easier to obtain a gun permit here than a driving licence, which requires lessons and a medical. Finland has a high proportion of gun ownership.

Just after the shooting, the European Parliament voted to ban under-18s from buying a gun from 2010. Finland, which initially opposed parts of the proposal, reversed course after the massacre, although the changes would not have kept Auvinen from obtaining the .22 calibre gun he used from a shooting club in October.

The new regulations require licenses for all Finnish gun purchases and parental consent for use by those under 18.

The interior ministry hopes also to make medical checks a prerequisite, with a decision expected in the next few weeks.

“I don’t think we need any tighter restrictions -- the point is how we can prevent people who are sick in their mind from carrying weapons,” said Jouni Laiho, director of the weapon administration unit at the ministry.

Finland has also promised to invest in psychological support at schools, to allow earlier detection of unusual behaviour.

Editing by Sarah Edmonds and Matthew Jones

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