A new report from the Swedish Crime Prevention Council (BRÅ) shows that lethal firearm violence has increased sharply in Sweden since the mid-2000s, and is now the worst of the 22 countries studied in Europe. In many European countries, on the contrary, lethal violence is declining, both in general and terms of firearms.
The increase in fatal shootings in Sweden is exceptional, and is driven almost entirely by gun violence in a criminal environment where the victims are aged 20-29. “It is about a wrecked and failed immigration policy and a simple-minded integration policy,” said Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats.
The purpose of the study, which was presented on May 26, was to map levels and trends in lethal violence using different methods of violence, with a special focus on firearms. That it has increased has long been known to BRÅ, but this time the task from the government was to compare Sweden with other countries in Europe. With the help of mainly Eurostat and WHO, BRÅ has collected information on lethal violence from 22 countries.
Hammarkullen, Gothenburg, is one of Sweden’s 22 “particularly vulnerable areas”. In similar suburbs, where the vast majority have a foreign background, there is the criminal environment where 80 percent of all fatal shootings in Sweden take place. The police classify a total of 60 areas as either “risk area”, “vulnerable area” or “particularly vulnerable area”.
From mainly the left, criticism has been voiced that not all of Europe’s countries are included, which would present Sweden in a better light, but to Swedish weekly Nya Tider, the report’s author Klara Hradilova-Selin clarified their selection: “I do not know what they base it on. We have not included different countries to achieve a certain result in any way. The most comparable countries were chosen. It is the rest of the Nordic region in particular, and it is Western Europe that is most similar to Sweden.”
Gang shootings account for almost the entire increase
The results show that the development in Sweden in different ways differs from what it looks like in the countries studied. The general level of lethal violence has decreased in almost all countries studied during the period after the turn of the millennium, and it has decreased sharply in the countries that were previously at a relatively high level. Until a few years ago, Sweden was at a relatively low level, but the level has since risen and is now higher than in many other countries. On average, 8 people per million inhabitants fell victim to lethal violence in 2017 in the countries studied, while the Swedish figure was 11. It has continued to rise and by 2020 it had reached 12.
The increase in Sweden is primarily driven by lethal violence with firearms, a category in which our country is now very high. In Sweden, there are about 4 shot dead per million inhabitants, while the European average is 1.6. BRÅ states that no other country shows increases that are comparable to Sweden’s, and in most countries the numbers have decreased.
Sweden also stands out through the proportion of fatal shootings that can be linked to a criminal environment, with eight out of ten. In the Netherlands, for example, the proportion is 6 out of 10, while in Finland it is very rare. Sweden was also at a relatively low level during the 2000s, with 3-5 out of 10, and during the 1990s with 2 out of 10. Sweden’s exceptional increase is driven almost entirely by gun violence in a criminal environment where the victims are aged 20- 29 years, in what is usually called “gang shootings”.
The criminologist and former police officer Fredrik Kärrholm commented on the situation on 5 June in the Sweden Democratic channel Riks: “The situation in Sweden with young men who kill each other is unparalleled both in comparable countries and in our own history. In no other country in the EU have so many young men been shot dead in recent years.”
Kärrholm believes that the situation, if compared to the 1950s or Sweden’s neighbouring countries today, is extreme. He points out that gang violence consists of much more than shootings: “The firearms violence and the bombings are, however, only the ultimate form of a more extensive gangster violence. These include extortion, aggravated theft, robbery, kidnapping, drug crime and much more. And this broad criminal problem is also characterized by crudeness. It is not just about the number of crimes, but also the nature of the crime.
BRÅ sees no clear explanation for Sweden’s special position
BRÅ’s assignment did not include investigating the reasons for the increase, or why it looks like this in Sweden in particular, but refers to research that identifies a number of “risk factors that can cause sudden increases in fatal violence”. In the press release where the report was presented, Klara Hradilova-Selin explained: “It is, for example, about illegal drug markets, criminal gangs or low trust in the police in certain areas. But such risk factors also exist in some other European countries, without these countries having the same development of lethal firearm violence as we have had in Sweden.”
The report itself discusses the issue under the heading “What could it be due to?”. Access to illegal firearms is mentioned, as are socio-economic factors, but no answer is given as to why Sweden’s development differs so much from other countries. The fatal shootings are often linked to drug trafficking, but Sweden does not stand out in a European context.
Most Swedes however are not as perplexed by the increase in violence, which they believe is entirely related to asylum immigration, and the increase in the number of people with a non-European background. Since 1980, Sweden has granted residence permits to almost one million asylum seekers and their relatives.
Of the one million arrivals, 600 000 came in the last 20 years, and in the last 10 years alone, the influx of asylum seekers and relatives has amounted to 400 000 people. They often come from countries where problems are solved with violence. At the same time, it is a fact that the group responsible for the vast majority of fatal shootings are young men in criminal networks in “areas of exclusion” and almost exclusively of people with a foreign background.
Even if BRÅ’s report also touches on immigration and ethnicity, no real conclusion is reached: “People with a foreign background are overrepresented among perpetrators of lethal violence in (among other things) Sweden (Lehti et al. 2019). At the same time, different studies draw different conclusions about the significance of ethnicity or migration for lethal violence, often depending on what other circumstances are included in the analysis. Some studies find that ethnic diversity can increase the risk of fatal violence (see the meta-study of Nivette 2011).
“Others nuance this conclusion; Chon (2011), for example, has found that ethnic and linguistic – but not religious – diversity contributes to higher levels of lethal violence. Analyzes by Soysa and Noel (2018) show that it is polarization rather than ethnic diversity that increases the risk.”
Sweden Democrats challenge the response on the findings
Jimmie Åkesson challenged the Minister of the Interior Mikael Damberg on SVT Aktuellt on 26 May: “You have been giving money to vulnerable areas, to vulnerable schools and to social services for decades and nothing has helped. Everyone knows that it is not about Kalle, Pelle and Svenne who have slipped up and who need help from the social services.”
He continued: “It is about a wrecked and failed immigration policy and a simple-minded integration policy. It is not only the fault of this government, but Reinfeldt as prime minister was at least as guilty. Then efforts are also needed when it comes to petty crimes. Society must already show young children and younger teenagers that it does not pay to commit crime by being punished. No government has wanted to do anything about it.”
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