Gun Laws & Legislation

Swedish judges coddle gun-toting gangsters to compensate for ‘dangerous’ city streets

David Martosko Executive Editor

Swedish courts are handing down more and more lenient sentences to gangsters who carry firearms outside the strict limits of that country’s gun-control laws, ruling that some criminals’ hostile inner-city environments suggest a need for greater personal protection.

Sydsvenskan, southern Sweden’s largest liberal daily newspaper, reported Sunday that the Swedish prosecutor general conducted an audit of 150 weapons cases prosecuted in 2007 and found that courts were more forgiving to gangland criminals who armed themselves.

Prosecutor Jan Pernvi told the Swedish newspaper The Local that in one 2009 case, a minimal sentence was handed down to a gang member who was arrested with a fully automatic pistol in his belt. The judge, he said, ruled that such a criminal “can be especially vulnerable when living in a dangerous environment, and therefore have personal reasons to be armed.”

Pernvi was baffled. “So the court perceived it as mitigating circumstances that he was a professional criminal, even if it wasn’t written in the sentence,” he said.

Sweden’s gun control laws require citizens to be active participants in competition shooting for six months before they can apply for a license to own a handgun. Minor criminal convictions, including for public drunkenness can result in the cancellation of a license and the confiscation of the offender’s guns.

Illegal firearm possession can result in a one-year jail term, and cases deemed “serious” by the Swedish justice system can carry up to four years in prison. But one recent case, involving a member of Stockholm’s “M-falangen” street gang who carried a fully-automatic rifle, resulted in just a four-month sentence.

In particular, the audit of gun-related prosecutions found fault with two high-profile judges in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, which is just a toll-bridge away from the Danish capital of Copenhagen.

“Only four months in prison for possessing a Kalashnikov? That’s too damned short,”  Malmö Police Homicide Squad chief investigator Borje Sjöholm said. “What signal does that send?’

Malmö’s downtown district has been the site of  a string of five execution-style shootings since early December. One murder victim was a 15-year-old boy who was killed during the city’s New Year’s festivities.

And a 39-year-old Swede now faces multiple murder charges stemming from an alleged seven-year string of sixteen sniper-like shootings that killed three people.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Malmö police spokesman Lars-Hakan Lindholm told the Associated Press. “It’s exceptional that there have been so many murders in such a short period of time.”

As a result, Swedish lawmakers are floating ideas about how to further tighten the country’s gun-control laws.

“This is really scary,” Social Democrat MP Morgan Johansson told The Local. “It is about time now that the fight against organized crime becomes a national responsibility. This is not a local or regional issue.”

Johansson chairs the Swedish parliament’s Committee on Justice.

Across the three mile-wide sound from Malmö, Danish prosecutors in Copenhagen typically ask judges to double sentences for defendants on trial for gun crimes if street gangs were involved.

An official with the Swedish Court of Appeals told The Local that the law should allow judges to consider whether a defendant carried his or her weapon specifically to use it in a criminal act, and whether the gun in question is especially dangerous.

“We want to give the courts some guidance, and signal that they shouldn’t be afraid to issue the full imposed penalty,” he said.

David Martosko is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter.