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Five things to know about guns in Germany

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Five things to know about guns in Germany
Photo: DPA.
18:11 CEST+02:00
Germany has one of the highest rates of gun ownership worldwide, yet also one of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths. The Local looks at some other facts that might surprise you.

1. Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe

The US Library of Congress defines the German gun control system as “one of the most stringent in Europe”.

And professor Christian Pfeiffer of Criminology Research Institute of Lower Saxony also told The Local that Germany’s laws were some of the toughest worldwide.

Germans do not have fundamental rights to bear arms, unlike Americans do under the Second Amendment, and the country’s violent past including the Nazi era has certainly helped to shape the current strict regulations.

To get a gun, Germans must first 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, which includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have mental illness or any other attributes that might make them questionable to authorities.

A hunter ready to shoot. Photo: DPA.

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

One 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 all, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

Under the reforms passed in the wake of a 2009 mass shooting, gun owners are also subject to continued monitoring by the government with officials able to ask gun owners at any time to enter their private property and check that they are properly storing their weapons.

2. Fourth-highest gun ownership rate worldwide

A man looking at guns at a shop in Nuremberg. Photo: DPA.

But even given Germany’s strict gun policies, the country was still home to the fourth-highest number of legal guns per capita in 2013, falling behind just the United States, Switzerland and Finland.

About 2 million people own more than 5.5 million legal guns in Germany for a population of more than 80 million.

On top of that, police unions have estimated that there are up to 20 million more illegally-owned guns in Germany - this would mean roughly 30 guns for every group of 100 people.

3. One of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths worldwide

But even given the relatively high amount of guns in the country, Germany has one of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths each year, according to international GunPolicy.org research by the University of Sydney.

Over the past 20 years, “crimes against life” - which include murder as well as negligent manslaughter - that involve guns have dropped from 783 in 1995 to 130 in 2015, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

Of those crimes in 2015, just 57 were intentional murders.

This of course pales in comparison to the rates in the US, where firearm homicides surpass 11,000 people killed each year or roughly 3.5 deaths per 100,000 people, according to GunPolicy.org.

In Germany, that rate barely reaches 0.07 deaths per 100,000 people.

4. Mass shootings have led to stricter gun laws

People mourn for the victims of the 2009 Winnenden massacre. Photo: DPA.

Several mass shootings within the past two decades have had a great impact on gun control policy. In 2002, a 19-year-old expelled from his high school in Erfurt brought a semiautomatic pistol to the school and killed 16 people before killing himself.

The German parliament responded by passing major revisions to weapons laws, including increasing the minimum age for acquiring a gun and requiring a psychological exam for people under 25.

In 2006, an 18-year-old went to his former school in Emsdetten and shot and wounded five people before killing himself. This led to restrictions on the sale of violent video games to juveniles.

Then in 2009, a 17-year-old in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, went to his old school with a semiautomatic pistol, killing a total of 15 people at the school and while fleeing from police.

Since those mass shootings, there has also been drop-off in gun violence. In 2009 when Winnenden happened, there were 179 crimes against life that involved guns being fired, compared to the 130 such crimes in 2015.

5. No major mass shootings between 2009 and 2016

According to criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, the 2009 Winnenden massacre was Germany’s last mass shooting, defined as four or more people killed in a public place, before the one in Munich in July 2016.

The 18-year-old perpetrator in Munich killed nine other people, and was reportedly obsessed with mass killers like Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik: The shooting occurred on the same day as Breivik's attacks five years before.

Other rampage shootings in recent years have resulted in fewer than four deaths, such as in 2015 when a man shot dead two people in what appeared to be random killings.

Meanwhile, as of March 2017, the US has had more than 60 shootings that killed or injured at least four people, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

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