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Germany

Gun control divides opinion in Germany

Campaigners have been calling for a ban on lethal weapons since the deadly school shooting in Winnenden in 2009. The gunman's father has been convicted of breaking the law, which critics say is still too lax.

man pointing gun

Handguns should be banned, say campaigners

Although gun laws have been tightened since the deadly school shooting in the south-western German town of Winnenden in March 2009, and the father of the gunman has been convicted of manslaughter and breaking the law on weapons storage, campaigners are calling for a total ban on owning lethal weapons.

Representatives from Germany's sports shooting associations, however, insist the restrictions are sufficient.

"After Winnenden, they practically criminalized sports shooting," Friedrich Gepperth, president of the Association of German Sport Shooters told Deutsche Welle.

"We're at the end of our tether with this. The new regulations are already damaging enough for the sport."

Around one and a half million people are members of gun clubs in Germany. They own between 10 to 12 million weapons. They are legal, but have to be kept in a special weapons cabinet which must be locked.

weapons cabinet

In Germany weapons have to be stored in a locked cabinet

German authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce this rule since the 2009 shooting in Winnenden. They also raised the minimum age for large-caliber shooting from 14 to 18 years.

New rules not effective

Gepperth says the new age restriction on large-caliber weapons is missing the point, as people who can use a small-caliber weapon will also be able to shoot large-caliber weapons.

He points out that the Winnenden shooting has shown that even an inexperienced marksman can go on the rampage.

"Freedom also means we have to take risks. There are only about four to six accidents with injuries and or fatalities per year, so I don't see why we have to deprive millions of people of their weapons," says Gepperth.

There has been support from some politicians, but critics say guns have no place in the home.

"Children should be brought up playing with toys, books and music, not with dangerous weapons dominating their everyday life," Claudia Roth, co-chairman of the Green Party said.

women pentathletes shooting air pistols

Pentathletes are increasingly using non-lethal weapons

Total ban

A world without weapons is also the objective of an initiative called "Lethal weapons are not for sports". It has gathered over 100,000 signatures in cooperation with another group, the "Winnenden Rampage Alliance", which were then submitted to parliament. They are campaigning for a total ban on lethal weapons in Germany.

"In the last Olympics, Germany's pentathletes did not use lethal weapons - they switched to laser weapons, Roman Grafe, spokesman for the alliance, said.

"They are so well-designed you can even hear the bang. Also, pneumatic weapons are a viable alternative, and thousands of amateur shooters are using them already."

Grafe is convinced that a voluntary arrangement will not work. Instead, he says, Germany should copy Britain, where handguns were banned after a school shooting in Dunblane in Scotland in 2006.

New register

Next year, a central weapons register will be introduced in Germany. Gun owners will have to register the type of gun, the caliber, the serial number and their name and address. The data will be kept for at least 20 years. According to the former head of the police union, Konrad Freiberg, the measure is long overdue.

"We have 570 different divisions dealing with weapons legislation - all with different rules. And I have to say, the fact that we're only introducing this register now is the result of pure negligence, because it can really save lives if the police know exactly who's in possession of a weapon and who isn't."

But it is not just a question of tightening the rules, it is also about having the manpower to enforce the law and conduct regular checks.

"We don't have a legal deficit, it's more of a control deficit," the chairman of the German Police Trade Union, Rainer Wendt, told the dpa news agency, complaining that the local councils in Germany have too few staff to do the necessary checks.

Author: Andi Noll / ng
Editor: Susan Houlton

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