The tragic shooting deaths of 26 people, including 20 small children, at an elementary school in Connecticut last year has cast a harsh glare on U.S. gun laws and the political power and influence of the National Rifle Association.
Even a political leader in Iceland, a tiny island country of only about 320,000 souls near the Arctic Ocean, has weighed in on the controversy surrounding America’s obsession with guns.
According to the Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper, Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr, who is described as a pacifist, made a comparison between America’s fondness for guns and Iceland’s ancient practice of whale-hunting.
"When you [Americans] were unhappy with our hunting whales, we said 'It is a part of our culture',” he said. “You [Americans] said: 'We don't care. Stop whaling or we'll stop buying your fish.' OK, we stop. But what can I do [in response to your gun culture]? Stop buying Coke?"
However, Icelanders themselves are no stranger to weapons.
According to reports, some 90,000 Icelanders -- almost one-third of the country’s population -- own guns. On a per capita basis, Iceland ranks 15th on the global list of gun ownership rates.
But violent crime is virtually nonexistent in this land of Viking descendants and geysers. In 2009, only four gun-related deaths were recorded, including one suicide and one accidental shooting.
This could possibly be attributed to strict gun control laws in Iceland -- a national database registers and tracks all guns, and all gun buyers must be licensed by the state to possess firearms.
The Grapevine noted that the vast majority of weapons in Iceland consist of shotguns and hunting rifles -- and very few handguns.
Elvar Árni Lund, chairman of the Hunting Association of Iceland, told Iceland Review: “Semi-automatic rifles are banned and handgun ownership is fortunately low, mostly in connection with sharpshooting. Gun ownership in Iceland is mostly for the purpose of hunting and practicing sport.”
Regarding the high rate of gun ownership in the island, Lund added: “It shows that we are on the same level as other nations in the northern hemisphere. It is in our culture to hunt wild animals.”
Mayor Gnarr’s anti-violence stance extends into other spheres as well -- for example, he has called for the banning of all military ships from the harbor of Reykjavík, and all military airplanes are prohibited from the local airport as part of the mayor's efforts to make the capitol a "city of peace" and a "military-free zone.”
Gnarr also wants Iceland -- which has no standing army –-- to quit NATO.
"A peaceful and responsible city administration cannot be pleased with an unchanged situation at Reykjavík airport,” he declared in 2010.
“The city government asks that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs focus on seeing to it that all military traffic to and from the airport be stopped. Icelanders live by a centuries-old tradition of peace. The nation is peaceful, without an army, and strives to support peace in the world."