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Germany

Germany gets Tougher on Guns

German Parliament on Friday tightened gun control laws. Owning weapons is now subject to stringent rules. The decision coincided with a horrific high school shooting that left 17 dead in the German city of Erfurt.

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Germany has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world

One day after the horrific Erfurt school massacre that cost 17 lives, Germany ponders how the 19-year-old gunman got his hands on a pump-action shotgun in the first place?

It was a macabre coincidence, however, that just at the time that the drama was unfolding at the Erfurt school on Friday, the German Parliament in Berlin was debating tighter gun control legislation.

After several failed attempts in the past two decades to fundamentally reform Germany’s gun control legislation, Parliament on Friday agreed on tightening the existing legislation with a sizeable majority.

No more fake guns without a license

Under the new law passed on Friday, owners of airguns, which still shoot potentially deadly small pellets, must now carry a license. The new law also lays down that even owners of gas pistols will require a "small arms license" in future - an official permit that proves the suitability and reliability of the person to own such a fake gun.

Needless to say, criminals and members of extremist groups whose names are known to the police are entirely banned from possessing weapons.

Until now, airguns and starter pistols were available to anyone aged 18 or over.

With the new weapons law, even the possession of star-shaped throwing knives, fist knives, and so-called butterfly knives will be banned in future.

The German government has defended this measure saying that numerous robberies and even hostage-taking have been carried out with such weapons.

Weapons of this kind are often found in scuffles among youth gangs: they’re easy to handle and to conceal, some members of parliament argued in Friday's debate.

Even rules regarding the preservation and storing of firearms and ammunition shells are to be tightened in future.

And those inheriting weapons must get the right documents and license within five years or reckon with a blocking system through which the weapon will be rendered useless.

Protecting citizens, improving domestic security

German police say that there are around ten million legally owned guns in Germany. But they estimate that there are twice as many illegal firearms in the country. Many of these illegal weapons have flooded in from former Balkan war zones and from eastern Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

German members of parliament on Friday emphasized that the main security threat did not arise from the legal, private ownership of weapons, but rather from the illegal firearms in the hands of criminals.

The Parliamentary speaker in the Interior Ministry, Fritz Rudolf Körper of the Social Democratic party (SPD) as well as members of the Greens have welcomed the tighter weapons laws by saying that Germany finally has a modern gun control legislation.

They insisted that the strict rules and procedures governing gun ownership are not meant to deter those belonging to hunters’ clubs and sports organizations, but rather to balance interests between the security needs of the population and those possessing weapons.

But the legislation has run into opposition from the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the former communist party (PDS).

Ulla Jelpke of the PDS has criticized that the law does not solve the problems of possession of gas guns and booby pistols, while FDP politician Rainer Funke says that Germany already had one of the toughest gun control legislations. Any further restrictions would be completely unnecessary, he said before Friday's vote in parliament.

Interior Ministry says most weapons legally owned

According to figures released by the German Interior Ministry, some 7,2 million weapons were legally owned in Germany in the year 2001.

They belonged to about 2,3 million citizens. Of them 650,000 were hobby marksman and 350,000 hunters with a valid hunting license.

The majority of the remaining 1,3 million had either inherited weapons or whose weapons were legalized in the 1970s under two amnesty treaties. About 15,000 people were believed to carry weapons out of a need for self-defense.

Some 2,000 illegal weapons are confiscated every year, according to reports of the Interior Ministry.

Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat is due to vote on the new gun control law in late May.

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