German media roundup: Could Winnenden have been prevented?

Could the Winnenden massacre have been prevented? With the nation still in shock, German newspapers in The Local’s media roundup engage in some soul-searching following the bloody school rampage in Baden-Württemberg.

German media roundup: Could Winnenden have been prevented?
Photo: DPA

A day after 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer killed 15 people on Wednesday, Germany is grappling with the causes and consequences. The authorities say the teen had been in psychiatric care and he had announced his intentions on the internet before the bloodbath. But the country’s main papers on Thursday can’t agree on the best way to prevent such school rampages in the future.

Click here for a photo gallery of the incident.

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung argues that stricter gun laws wouldn’t prevent similar tragedies, but better checks on people already possessing a firearm would be a step into the right direction.

“Even owning a weapon is tied to several obligations,” the paper points out. “The father of the deadly shooter did not fulfill these and therefore he’ll have to be held accountatble.”

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung instead focuses on the fact that the current tragedy is almost certain to animate others to copy it.

“The images of the rampage encourage politicians to voice their outrage, shock and how dumbfounded they are. It encourages the police to fine tune their video simulations and role-playing for such massacres,” the paper argues. “Why shouldn’t the images of these massacres encourage all kinds of people but not the next person set to cause another massacre?”

Berlin-based daily Der Tagesspiegel sees the shooter as a product of his environment and German society, which failed to offer him help to escape his inner aggressions.

“The school, his friends and his parents, didn’t offer him this chance, which is every child’s right. Now, as the culprit will have calculated, he is taken seriously. The price to pay for a failure like this is unacceptable,” the paper writes.

The right-wing paper Die Welt, on the other hand, argues Germany much look at what motivated the teen gunman in order to keep it from happening again. “Prevention focused on perpetrators must be broadly expanded so as to see early warning signals,” the daily writes, adding that security must also be increase at the nation’s schools. “At every airport and at many companies we are subject to search, but anyone can enter a German classroom unchecked.”

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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”