Transphobic attacks in Germany likely to be under-recorded

An attack on a 15-year-old trans girl in North Rhine-Westphalia has highlighted the problems with reporting transphobic violence in Germany.

The justice emblem on the sleeve of a correctional officer is seen in front of a rainbow flag.
The justice emblem on the sleeve of a correctional officer is seen in front of a rainbow flag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

At the end of March, police in the city of Herne in North Rhine-Westphalia reported a violent attack by three 12- and 13-year-olds which left the 15-year-old victim in hospital.

What the police didn’t report, however, was the fact that the victim was a trans girl; this only came to light after the victim and her mother gave an interview to RTL news.

According to trans rights activists, this case highlights the fact that the real figure of transphobic attacks is likely to be a lot higher than the official figures show.

In an interview with Taggeschau, Sarah Ponti of the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD) said that transphobic crimes are on the rise and “among queer-hostile crimes, trans-hostile crimes are the most common.”

READ ALSO: Germany appoints first ever commissioner for LGBTQ issues

The fact that there is hardly any research on this issue means that the causes are also unclear; “Does it have to do with a growing visibility of trans people? Or is trans-hostile sentiment on the rise? Or both?” she said.

Ponti also criticised the lack of specific categories for recording trans-hostile violence, which results in difficulties for the police in assigning offences. This would improve, she said, if transphobia were introduced as a subcategory.

A spokesperson from the Federal Ministry of the Interior explained that the subtopic “Gender/Sexual Identity” has been differentiated since the new year.

READ ALSO: Meet the Bavarian politician fighting for trans rights in the German election

“Since then, corresponding crimes have been recorded separately in the categories ‘ misogynist,’ ‘anti-male’, and ‘gender diversity,'” a spokesman said.

But there are also other hurdles to overcome. The LSVD spokesperson also pointed out that transphobic hate violence is often not recognised by police or prosecutors because transphobic motives are not mentioned in the relevant criminal laws.

According to Ponti, victims often conceal their attackers’ motives, either out of shame or because they do not trust the police.

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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.”