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No Easy Answers

March 12, 2009

German politicians of all parties said the country needed to avoid making knee-jerk reactions to the school shooting that shocked Germany. But others called for measures to protect children to be put in place.

Germany mourned for the shooting's victimsImage: AP

A day after a deadly school shooting, German politicians said they would refrain from making any rash decisions on gun control or school safety. The first thing to do was collect facts about the shooting which left 16 dead, including the teenaged gunman, politicians said.

The scene in front of the school in Winnenden was pure emotion on Thursday, March 12. Students had tears streaming down their faces as they held each other, trying to come to terms with the horrible killings.

"I don't know if I can stay at this school. Every time you enter, the memories come back," student Christin Pluengel told Reuters.

The 17-year-old gunman, identified as Tim K., fired 112 rounds, 60 in the school, and had 109 unused rounds with him when his body was found by police. Many of the victims were shot at close range with a 9 millimeter Beretta pistol. As police closed in, he eventually killed himself.

Oversimplifying problem won't help

Photo of the gun used in the killing
Politicians will debate whether to tighten gun lawsImage: AP/Reproduktion: Daniel Roland

While there were general warnings against knee-jerk reactions, some politicians did call for measures to be taken to prevent such a shooting in the future.

Individual politicians and police groups pointed to metal detectors in school doorways, a ban on violent video games and stricter gun laws as potential ways to keep kids from falling victim to future violence.

But such steps oversimplify a complex problem, according to Joachim von Gottberg, vice president of the Children's Charity of Germany.

"Whoever points denounces addiction to computer games or an infatuation with weapons as the cause for these kinds of terrible acts hinders the search for the complex problems and reasons that precede such crimes," he said in Berlin on Thursday.

Laws can't prevent violence

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said lawmakers are not able to completely protect against every possible threat.

"Absolute security does not exist," he said in Berlin, adding that Germany needed to look at "what is going on in our society."

Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, said the country needed to concentrate on strengthening the role of the family and teaching moral values to children rather than calling for tighter restrictions on gun ownership.

A person plays a first-person shooter video game
Blaming computer games is too easy an answer, von der Leyen saidImage: AP

"I can't see how a change in weapons rules would contribute anything to solving the problem," Schaeuble told Reuters.

Calls for stricter gun control laws were issued after police said they suspected the gunman got the pistol he used in Wednesday's massacre from his parents' bedroom.

Father could face charges

His father, reportedly a member of a local shooting club, is said to own over a dozen guns, all locked away except the nine-millimeter Beretta that caused the carnage. German authorities said they are considering whether to press charges against his father.

"Everything here points to negligence on the part of the father as far as the storage of this weapon is concerned," said police spokesman Ralf Michelfelder.

Germany tightened its gun control laws twice since a 2002 school shooting in the city of Erfurt, but politicians said the restrictions could not have prevented Wednesday's events or a 2006 school shooting.

Preventative measures needed

Police stand next to a car
Police said the teenager's father could face chargesImage: AP

Sebastian Edathy, an interior affairs expert for the Social Democratic Party, agreed with Schaeuble on the impossibility of absolute safety. Instead, he said, Germany should consider preventative ways to deal with violence in schools.

"Here in Germany we have significantly fewer school psychologists for students than in other European countries," he told German television channel Phoenix, adding that schools should consider adding trained mental-health workers to their staffs.

Leaders of the Greens said Wednesday's tragic events should be analyzed by experts in order to uncover "hidden signals from students with problems."

"We need a culture that pay attention and recognizes problems," party heads Claudia Roth and Cem Ozdemir said.

German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen made a similar statement, saying that most acts of violence are preceded by warnings.

"We have to learn what the typical warning signs are," she told the Neue Presse newspaper on Thursday.
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