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Shock as German soldiers let kids play with machine guns

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Shock as German soldiers let kids play with machine guns
Photo: Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society).
16:43 CEST+02:00
The German Defence Ministry is taking flak after pictures emerged of soldiers letting very small people play with some very big weapons.

It all started at an open-house event in Stetten, Baden-Württemberg at the weekend, where civilians were invited in to learn about the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr.

But on Monday the advocacy group German Peace Society - United Opponents of Military Service posted pictures on Facebook showing small, pre-school-aged children being offered the chance to handle some powerful guns on their own.

The guns in the pictures included a G36 assault rifle, a USP pistol, and a MP7 submachine gun, but Bundeswehr rules dictate that children under 18 should not be allowed to handle handguns.

Photo: Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society).

"Unfortunately this was not an 'isolated case', but a structural problem: the German military today aims to speak with children and adolescents about their enthusiasm for technology in order to promote themselves," the German Peace Society wrote on Facebook.

The pictures spread quickly online with many people calling on the Defence Ministry to take responsibility.

Photo: Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society).

The ministry said initially on Monday that “should this be true, it would be a clear violation of the standing rules of the armed forces” and that the soldiers involved may be disciplined.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen decided on Tuesday that future open-house events would not be able to openly display weapons that people can touch, according to publishing group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

“So that something like this does not happen in the future, I have decided that future Bundeswher events will not be able to put handguns on display,” von der Leyen said.

“A regrettable error took place, despite clear rules.”

The local Bundeswehr insisted that the weapons were not loaded and that the soldiers were not responsible for the children holding the guns. It was instead the parental figures with the kids who passed the weapons to the children, said garrison commander Hansjörg Friedrich.

“Not a single soldier handed an underage child a gun,” Friedrich said, adding that soldiers had immediately taken the guns away from the children if someone gave them a weapon.

But this is not the first time the Bundeswehr has gotten into trouble for allowing children to play with their guns: similar photos emerged in 2011, also during an open-house event, Spiegel reported

Social media users responded to the most recent images with shock and disbelief.

Some on Twitter compared the situation to something one might expect to see in the US.

“The German military put weapons in the hands of children. Copying the USA?” wrote one person under the name Gerd Al Tona.

“That should not have happened and should never happen again. No US situations,” wrote one Twitter user named Arnulf Bleck.

Others expressed pure shock at the notion.

“Children allowed to play with real weapons?” one Twitter user asked another. “What good can come of that? That’s a no-go.”

“Children taking up arms. You all must be out of your minds,” wrote another.

Germany has seen a dwindling number of military recruits in recent years, especially since obligatory conscription ended in 2011. Von der Leyen has tried to boost the numbers by adding more benefits for soldiers.

But groups like the German Peace Society have been critical of efforts to recruit 17-year-olds to the forces.

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