• Germany's news in English
The Local List
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Photo: DPA.

Five things to know about guns in Germany

Emma Anderson · 16 Jun 2016, 18:11

Published: 16 Jun 2016 18:11 GMT+02:00
Updated: 16 Jun 2016 18:11 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

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 Hamburg. 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 last year, 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.

Story continues below…

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 last year.

5. No major mass shootings since 2009

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.

However, a year later, a woman in a nearby small town shot and killed her five-year-old son, the boy’s father and then went to a hospital where she shot at more than a dozen others, killing one.

Subsequent rampage shootings have resulted in fewer than four deaths, such as last year when a man shot dead two people in what appeared to be random killings.

Meanwhile, so far this year the US has had about a dozen mass shootings where four or more people were killed, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Emma Anderson (emma.anderson@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd