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Gun control and firearms possession in Germany

Published February 20, 2020last updated December 12, 2022

Germany considers tougher gun laws after a suspected coup attempt linked to the far-right Reichsbürger group. DW looks at Germany's gun ownership laws.

German gun ownership card, a handgun and ammunition
German gun owners need a special passImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

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. Hunters don't need a weapons license as long as they have a hunting license (Jagdschein) and only use their guns for hunting game.

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.

A license to carry a gun, or Waffenschein, is only granted in rare cases: Essentially when the applicant can prove that he or she is in greater danger than the general public and that carrying a gun will keep them safer. German law has no provision stipulating whether a gun must be concealed or loaded in public or not.

Reichsbürger weapons secured in 2016
Raids of far-right extremists' homes regularly turn up a wide range of weaponsImage: Roland Weihrauch/dpa/picture alliance

There is also a minor firearms certificate, (Kleiner Waffenschein) which is easier to obtain, and is needed to carry lower-powered weapons, such as starting pistols, flare guns or anything that can only shoot blanks or irritants. Low powered air guns (below 7.5 joules) also come under this definition.

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

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 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. Some, though not all, semi-automatic weapons are defined as war weapons.

Who is allowed to carry 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.

Cupboard with weapons
German gun laws also stipulate how guns can be storedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch

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.

How do applicants demonstrate 'specialized knowledge'?

Applicants for a gun license must pass an examination or have undergone 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, is also recognized as specialized knowledge.

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

man shooting at shooting range
In Germany it is also possible to try out shooting with professional guidance, even if you don't own a gun license, gun ownership card or club membership.Image: Silas Stein/dpa/picture alliance

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, a weapons manufacturer, weapons dealer or a 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 carry 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 sports shooters confirming that they need these weapons in order to maintain their tradition.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

A version of this article was first published in 2020. It stated that hunters in Germany must carry a gun license (Waffenschein). In fact, they need a hunting license (Jagdschein). That has now been corrected.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight