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Germany: Many far-right extremists licensed to own arms

April 5, 2024

The German government says more than 1,000 members of far-right groups still have permission to own firearms. This comes as the domestic intelligence chief has warned of rising numbers of extremists in the country.

Confiscated firearms, some wrapped in plastic, and ammunition lie on tables
Weapons seized from Reichsbürger in the state of Baden-WürttembergImage: Christoph Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

Hundreds of far-right extremists and members of the Reichsbürger group were still in possession of a weapons license at the start of last year despite incipient efforts to disarm them, German media reported on Friday.

As of December 31, 2022, 1,051 extremists and some 400 Reichsbürger had permission to own at least one weapon, the corporate newsroom RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland said, citing the Interior Ministry's response to a parliamentary question from the Left Party.

A year previously, 1,561 extremists and some 500 Reichsbürger possessed arms licenses, according to the ministry.

The figures come as Germany experiences a recent rise in numbers of people holding a far-right ideology.

Reichsbürger claim to still uphold the sovereignty of the German Reich as it existed from 1871 till the death of Adolf Hitler in April 1945 and reject the authority of the current Federal Republic of Germany. 

Reichsbürger demonstrators with flags used by the historical Kingdom of Prussia
The Reichsbürger movement has grown considerably in recent yearsImage: Daniel Schäfer/dpa/picture alliance

Slow action

The Left Party parliamentarian who asked the ministry for the statistics, Martina Renner, called on the government to accelerate its efforts to disarm extremists.

"It is not announcements that are needed but concrete action by the authorities against Nazis and Reichsbürger," she told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.

She said it was dangerous that the German government was "not advancing with the necessary measures of weapons law" and risked failing in its efforts.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz' Social Democrats (SPD), has announced her intention of tightening laws on the possession of firearms.

Among other things, she wants to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and to introduce mandatory licenses for crossbows.

In addition, membership of an organization classed as being potentially extremist by the domestic intelligence agency could be made grounds for rescinding a weapons license.

However, the legal reforms are still under discussion by the three-party coalition government, with the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) opposing reform and instead calling for more rigorous implementation of existing law.

Warning of extremism

The release of the weapons statistics comes days after the head of Germany's domestic intelligency agency BfV, Thomas Haldenwang, warned that rising numbers of extremists posed a danger to democracy.

Haldenzwang said on Tuesday that the risk to the democratic system in Germany was higher than it had been in years.

"The number of extremists and the extremist potential have been rising for years," he wrote in a guest column for the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

He said digitalization in particular was helping extremists "in disseminating their ideologies directed against the free democratic order, and their hate-filled incitements."

tj/lo (epd, dpa, AFP)

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