School shooting victims to share €2m insurance

Victims and relatives of one of Germany's worst school shootings will share €2 million in compensation payments, it was confirmed on Wednesday.

School shooting victims to share €2m insurance
Grieving in Winnenden. Photo: DPA

Tim Kretschmer was 17 when he killed 15 people in and around his school in Winnenden, near Stuttgart, before killing himself during a face-off with the police.

Now, more than four years later, Allianz, the insurance company which provided the Kretschmer family's liability insurance, has agreed terms with lawyers representing those injured, and relatives of those who were killed in the massacre.

"The liability insurance for personal damage in this case is for €2 million and that has been paid," an Allianz spokeswoman told The Local.

"The limit was decided upon by the policy holder when the insurance was started, and cannot be altered. We are now working with lawyers for the victims and relatives to agree on a fair division of the money."

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper quoted Jens Rabe, the lawyer representing several victims, saying, "Everything has been wrapped up."

But the legal action is far from over for the Kretschmer family, with Winnenden town council still pursuing compensation payments, it confirmed on Tuesday.

The family has rejected all settlement suggestions, and were not "in any way" prepared to take part in compensation payments, the council told the paper.

Winnenden town and Baden-Württemberg state would have been ready to make great compromises in order to reach an agreement, the town council said.

The family's insurer had offered to contribute what the town described as a "six-figure sum", but every potential solution had been rejected by the parents, the town said.

On March 1st 2009, Kretschmer took a handgun from his father's bedside, and a load of ammunition, to his school where he shot dead nine pupils and three teachers.

He then killed a passer-by near a psychiatric clinic where he had been due himself to receive treatment, before hijacking a car and forcing the driver to take him to a car dealership.

There he killed two more people before police arrived and he shot himself.

Kretschmer's father was convicted in 2011 of 15 counts of manslaughter due to culpable negligence, for leaving the weapon in an unlocked cupboard in the bedroom.

And last May Winnenden lawyers said they would sue the mother for what they said was her shared responsibility for the gun, and for the fact she knew her son had psychological problems when he carried out the massacre.

The intention was for local authorities to demand €9.3 million in damages to cover costs of restoring the Albertville school following the massacre, as well as renting a replacement building during the restoration and psychological counselling for survivors.

Mrs Kretschmer's lawyer said in May she would contest the claim, saying she could not be expected to keep watch over her son 24 hours a day.

The Kretschmers were reported last summer to be preparing to sue the psychological clinic in Weinsberg which had been treating Tim at the time of the massacre. If they get the €8.8 million they are asking for, it will all go to the relatives of the dead, and the injured.

READ MORE: Winnenden massacre parents call for changes

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Demand for alarm gun licenses climbs in Germany

Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, but certain aspects of gun ownership are growing in popularity.

Demand for alarm gun licenses climbs in Germany
A small gun license lies between a “Walther P22” alarm pistol, a magazine and ammunition. Photo: DPA

Licenses to carry “small arms,” or weapons that only fire irritant gas or blank cartridges, are increasing, even if overall weapons demand is slowly levelling off.

To carry these weapons in public, Germans are required to hold a small arms license, or Kleinen Waffenschein. The number of these licenses rose again in 2019, more than doubling within the last five years. 

These weapons, however, can't cause any injuries unless fired from close range. Cologne police union chairman has previously said the increase is due to “a rising feeling of insecurity”, but the guns are also used for different purposes, such as setting off fireworks. 

READ ALSO: 'Feeling of insecurity': Alarm gun ownership on the rise in Germany

At the end 2019, a total of 664,706 certificates were registered in the National Arms Register. This is according to data the Federal Ministry of the Interior released to DPA on request.

The trend shows a clear upward trajectory. At the end of 2015, around 286,000 small arms licenses were listed in the National Arms Register. In 2016, there were 470,000; In 2017, 558,000; And, at the end of 2018, 611,000.

When are small weapons used?

Germans over 18 are eligible to apply for a small weapons license, which include non-lethal weapons that create warning signals or release irritant chemicals.

The licenses are issued by police or other local authorities. Before applicants are approved, personal background checks are conducted, looking for things like past criminal behaviour. 

Even the discharge of the weapons is only approved at shooting ranges, or within narrowly-defined justifiable situations, such as necessary self-defense – which can then be subject to court review in cases of doubt.

And weapons are prohibited at public gatherings like festivals, protests or movie premiers, regardless of a valid license.

But even with these regulations, police agencies warn the carrying of non-lethal weapons may cause danger for the gun owners as well as the general public, mainly because the weapons can look deceptively real.

A police officer aims a pistol, a “Walther P99,” in Duisberg. Photo: DPA

Not just for self-protection

Police unions view the newest developments with mixed feelings. The federal chairman of the German Police Union, Heiko Teggatz, however, is not alarmed.

Since background checks occur before licenses can be issued, “it can be assumed that the weapon owner is not necessarily amongst a group that is of police interest,” he explained. “In this respect, I don't find the rise of small gun licenses unsettling from a police point of view.”

Katja Triebel, owner of a Berlin arms shop, agrees. The non-lethal weapons can also be used with different ammunition, including fireworks, she said to explain the increasing demand she sees right before New Year's Eve. 

“The sales are about New Year's Eve fireworks, not self-protection,” she said. Firing pyro ammunition is prohibited in public spaces, but is allowed in enclosed areas such as shooting ranges for those carrying small weapon licenses. 

READ ALSO: Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE

Jörg Radek, the deputy federal president of the Police Union, on the other hand, is skeptical, saying he “doubts whether self-armament is the right way to improve security.”

He believes this is because small weapons users risk escalating dangerous situations.

“Whoever enters an armed conflict increases the risk to himself,” he explained. Additionally, he pointed out Germany's upcoming police shortage, which could result in less officers able to deal with arising crime.

He warned that by 2025, retirement would create 55,000 vacancies in the federal and state police agencies. 

Tense gun debate

Recent shootings have left Germany on edge concerning all forms of gun regulation.

Incidents include an attack in February where a shooter with anti-immigrant motives shot victims outside two Shisha bars in the city of Hanau. The man reportedly held valid licenses on all of his firearms.

And in October 2019, an attacker attempted to force his way into a Synagogue in the city of Halle. After failing to infiltrate the Yom Kippur festivities, he killed two passers-by before fleeing the scene. He utilized homemade firearms and explosives in his attack.

READ ALSO: What is Germany doing to combat the far-right after Hanau attacks?

The assassination of pro-migrant politician Walter Lübcke earlier in 2019 year has also played a role in raising concerns about guns in the hands of extremists. 

Germany's comprehensive and extensive regulation has been undermined in part because official agencies fail to keep track of their own stock, according to Welt am Sonntag.

In February 2020, the German newspaper reported that over 100 weapons have disappeared from various security agencies in Germany over the past decade.

One of the weapons, a submachine gun, was discovered in the home of police officer who was also involved in a far-right chat group.