Iceland is a sparsely populated island in the northern Atlantic. Its tiny population of some 330,000 live on a landmass around the size of Kentucky.
St. Louis, Missouri, which has a population slightly smaller than Iceland’s, had 193 homicides linked to firearms last year.
Icelanders believe the rigorous gun laws on this small, remote volcanic rock can offer lessons to the United States.
“The system here works,” said Gunnar Rúnar Sveinbjörnsson, a flip-flop-wearing spokesman for Reykjavik’s police department. “We would be glad to help.”
Like many outside the U.S., Sveinbjörnsson struggles to comprehend the extent of American gun violence.
“It’s just madness,” he says. “We just cannot understand why this isn’t stopped and why something isn’t being done.”
No other country in the developed world comes close to the U.S. when it comes to gun ownership, gun homicides, mass shootings and police killings.
After the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the “Enough is Enough” movement led to laws tightening gun restrictions in the state, including raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21. But that has not been repeated in other states nor on a national level.
In many places in the U.S., it’s still possible to buy a semi-automatic rifle in minutes with only patchy background checks.
Anyone who wants to own and fire a gun in Iceland must first be tested at a range like this one. Anton Brink Hansen / for NBC News
Gun control advocates in the U.S. sometimes point to countries such as Japan, where strict laws and a pacifist culture mean there are very few guns and as a result very few gun deaths.
But guns are everywhere in Iceland, about one for every three people, and many here are staunch advocates of their right to own a firearm.
“There’s nothing wrong with the gun,” said Jóhann Vilhjálmsson, a gunsmith in Reykjavik, echoing a favourite argument of the National Rifle Association. “The gun kills nothing, you know? It’s the person who is holding onto the gun.”
The last gun killing here was 11 years ago, and there have only been four in the past two decades, according to our source, a project run by Australia’s University of Sydney.
It would be misleading to suggest that the model in Iceland a small country where income inequality is low could be seamlessly transposed onto the U.S.
Most guns here are used for hunting or competitive shooting. The crime of any nature is so infrequent that few if anyone argues that they need to own a weapon for self-defence.
“The system in the U.S. is so different to the one we have here,” says Sveinbjörnsson, the police spokesman.
What is clear is how seriously all Icelanders take the responsibility that comes with owning a deadly weapon.
That is why Garðarsson, the mechanical engineer and hopeful gun-owner, is currently sitting in a Reykjavik hotel conference room learning about the ins and outs of his weapon of choice.
This is only one step in a meticulously regulated journey.
Candidates are examined by a doctor who checks they are in good physical and mental health.
They have a meeting with the chief of police, who asks them why they want to own a gun and runs a background check to make sure they have no criminal record.
Iceland is part of NATO but has no standing army. From this perspective, the idea of allowing ordinary people to buy military-grade weapons such as the infamous AR-15 seems “crazy, absolutely crazy,” according to Icelandic lawyer Ívar Pálsson.
“When you have an automatic gun in your home, anybody can access it, your children or anyone else,” he says.
Pálsson is responsible for giving one of the lectures that lead up to the gun exam. Vilhjálmsson, the city gunsmith, gives another, as well as the tests at the shooting range. The entire process is administered by the Environment Agency of Iceland.
Like his fellow classmates, Garðarsson now has to wait to see if he has passed. If not, it might be annoying to hit the books again but he believes Iceland should never consider adopting a more American-style regime.
“That people can go into a store and buy a gun, it’s ridiculous for me,” he says. “If something snaps in his head then he’s able to do it in just one hour go to a store, buy a gun, go to a guy he’s angry at and shoot him.”
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