Sweden’s gun violence rate has soared due to gangs, report says

By Jon Henley

Sweden is the only European country where fatal shootings have risen significantly since 2000, leaping from one of the lowest rates of gun violence on the continent to one of the highest in less than a decade, a report has found.

The report, by the Swedish national council for crime prevention (BRA), said the Scandinavian country had overtaken Italy and eastern European countries primarily because of the violent activities of organised criminal gangs.

“The rate in Sweden ranks very high in relation to other European countries, at approximately four deaths per million inhabitants per year. The average for Europe is approximately 1.6 deaths per million inhabitants,” it said.

“None of the other countries included in the study have experienced comparable increases.” The report said a decline in other forms of deadly violence, including knife crime, had masked the rise in fatal shootings.

Of 22 European countries analysed in the report, data from 2014-2017 put the country in second place, behind Croatia and ahead of Latvia. In 2018 it topped the ranking, although data from some countries was not complete that year.

Last year the country of 10.3 million people recorded more than 360 incidents involving guns, including 47 deaths and 117 people injured.

“The increase in gun violence in Sweden is unique in comparison with most other countries in Europe,” Håkan Jarborg, a police chief in southern Sweden, told the TT news agency.

Between 2000 and 2003, Sweden was 18th out of the 22 countries for deadly shootings per capita. But after a long period of decline, deadly shootings began to increase in the mid-2000s and have continued to do so, the report found, whereas in most other countries in Europe lethal violence has declined.

“The increase in gun homicide in Sweden is closely linked to criminal milieux in socially disadvantaged areas,” the report said, noting that shooting deaths had more than doubled between 2011 and 2019 and now accounted for 40% of violent deaths.

The report said more than eight out of 10 shootings were linked to organised crime, a significantly higher proportion than in other countries, and cited gang wars, the drugs trade and low confidence towards the police as potential factors.

Klara Hradilova Selin, a researcher at BRA, said one killing tended to trigger another. “It is a kind of social contagion,” she said. “If a shooting takes place, another usually takes place close to it, in both time and space.”

Sweden’s Social Democratic government has attempted several crackdowns on gangs in recent years. “Sweden must not get accustomed to this. It’s possible to reverse the trend,” the interior minister, Mikael Damberg, said in response to the report.

The opposition Moderate party, however, called the rankings “shameful”, while the head of the rightwing Sweden Democrats accused the government of “capitulating”.

The report found Sweden had slightly lower levels of other forms of fatal violence than the European average, with violent fatalities other than gun deaths declining over the period.