Gun control and firearms possession in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.02.2020
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Gun control and firearms possession in Germany

The suspected gunman in a far-right extremist shooting attack in Hanau is reported to have had a gun license and legally owned several handguns. DW looks at Germany's gun ownership laws.

Tobias R., the gunman in the attack in Hanau that killed nine people , was granted a gun license in Germany in 2013 and registered ownership of a weapon one year later, according to information from regional authorities in the state of Hesse.

The media group RND reported that two weapons are currently registered to the license, which was last reviewed in 2019, and that the murder weapon was a Glock 17 9-millimeter Luger, which Tobias R. legally purchased in an online shop.

The murder weapon is the same model used in the 2016 mass shooting in Munich. Glock 17s have also been used by several mass shooters in the US, as well as by Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011. 

The Hanau killings have reawoken some interest in German gun control, which is regulated by the 2002 Weapons Act.

What kinds of gun licenses exist in Germany?

According to the Weapons Act, you need a weapons possession card (Waffenbesitzkarte) to own or buy a firearm and a weapons license (Waffenschein) to use or carry a loaded firearm. This means collectors, for instance, only need the first, whereas hunters must have both.

A weapons possession card allows gun owners only to "transport" a firearm, rather than carry it. That means it must be unloaded and inside a locked case when taken out in public. But for those with a gun license, German law has no provision stipulating whether a gun must be concealed or loaded in public or not.

There is also a minor firearms certificate,(Kleiner Waffenschein) which is easier to obtain, and which is needed to carry lower-powered weapons, such as air guns, starting pistols, flare guns, or anything that can only shoot blanks or irritants.

Altogether, the costs for an application, including the required insurance, can run to around €500 ($540).

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What kinds of guns are legal in Germany?

German law makes a distinction between weapons and war weapons, with the latter listed in the War Weapons Control Act.

In Germany it is illegal to possess or use any war weapons. These include all fully automatic or semi-automatic rifles, machine guns (unless antiques from World War II or earlier), or barrels or breeches for such weapons. Pump-action shotguns are also banned under the Weapons Act.

Read more: Eight facts about gun control in the US

Who is allowed to own guns in Germany?

Applicants for a German gun license must 

1) be at least 18 years old,

2) have the necessary "reliability" and "personal aptitude,"

3) demonstrate the necessary "specialized knowledge,"

4) demonstrate a "need," and

5) have liability insurance for personal injury and property damage of at least €1 million ($1.1 million).

How do applicants demonstrate 'reliability' and 'personal aptitude'?

Local authorities are responsible for processing gun license applications, and therefore verifying reliability, personal aptitude, and need. Depending on where the applicant lives, the competent authority could be either the public order office (Ordnungsamt) or the police.

Amongst other criteria, the law says that applicants are deemed unreliable or lacking personal aptitude if:

  • They have been convicted of a crime in the last ten years
  • Their circumstances give reason to assume they will use weapons recklessly
  • They have been members of an organization that has been banned or deemed unconstitutional
  • They have in the last five years pursued or supported activities deemed a threat to Germany's foreign interests
  • They have been taken into preventive police custody more than once in the last five years
  • They are dependent on alcohol, drugs, or are mentally ill

In addition, anyone under 25 applying for their first gun license must provide a certificate of "mental aptitude" from a public health officer or psychologist.

Read more: 'Far-right prepper' goes on trial in Germany

Cupboard with weapons (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch)

German gun laws also stipulate how guns can be stored

How do applicants demonstrate 'specialized knowledge'?

Applicants for a gun license must pass an examination or have undergone some training to acquire a gun. State examinations cover the legal and technical aspects of firearms, safe handling, and shooting skills.

Specialized knowledge can also be verified with other examinations, as long as they cover the same areas: these include hunting license examinations, gunsmith's trade examinations, or full-time employment in the gun or arms trade for three years.

The completion of certain training courses involving firearms, which conclude with an examination, are also recognized as specialized knowledge.

In addition, officially-recognized shooting associations can also carry out their own examinations.

Read more: German weapons amnesty 'a huge success' in Bavaria

How do applicants demonstrate 'need'?

The law states that gun license applicants must prove some need to obtain one, and defines this as "personal or economic interests meriting special recognition, above all as a hunter, marksman, traditional marksman, collector of weapons or ammunition, weapons or ammunition expert, endangered person, weapons manufacturer, weapons dealer or security firm."

People who show they are unusually likely to be the victim of a crime can also be deemed as having a need to own a firearm.

Members of shooting associations and clubs can also demonstrate the "need" for a gun license if they submit a certificate from an association of traditional marksmen confirming that they need these weapons in order to maintain a tradition.

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