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Fears of School Violence

DW staff (jen)December 6, 2006

Police declared a state of alert at three high schools amid fears of rash of school violence in Germany, and some states are moving to ban the sale of "killer" computer games to minors.

Head watching computer screen
Computer killer: "Counter Strike" is being considered for the banImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg are on high alert, after threats of a school attack surfaced on the internet and an 18-year-old pupil disappeared. The news came just two weeks after a firearms fanatic shot and wounded 37 people at a school in the western German town of Emsdetten before committing suicide.

Emsdetten gunman, with gun
The gunman of the Emsdetten massacre had this photo on his Web siteImage: AP

Authorities searched students entering the schools in the southwestern town of Offenburg near the French border, looking for weapons and dispatched police officers to guard the buildings.

Officers in cruisers and helicopters launched a manhunt for the missing pupil, who is considered a loner and vanished on Monday. A hotline was set up for concerned parents, teachers and students.

Planned bloodbath?

Authorities sent out a warning to all the schools in the state of Baden-Württemberg on Tuesday after two high school students playing the game "Counter Strike" on the Internet encountered a third person who, during an online chat, announced there would be a bloodbath at his school on Dec. 6.

Recent incidents of school violence over the past several weeks have prompted calls for a ban on sales of violent computer games to minors.

The states of Bavaria and Lower Saxony have said they would like to ban so-called "killer games" with an initiative in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

Lower Saxony supports Bavaria

Games Convention 2006 XBox
Some German politicians called for banning violent gamesImage: AP

Bavaria's Interior Minister, the Christian Social Union member Günther Beckstein, said he wants make the creation, sale and use of computer games that glorify violence punishable by law.

Uwe Schünemann, Lower Saxony's interior minister and Christian Democrat, said he supported the idea. His ministry was working on a plan that would function together with Bavaria's, he said.

"Our goal is to have a Bundesrat initiative by early 2007," Schünemann said.

According to Beckstein's suggestions, the sale, purchase and use of games that fail to respect human life would be punishable by up to a year of prison.

But a speaker for the Bavarian ministry, Rainer Riedl, said there needs to be some differentiation built in to the concept.

"Someone who designs and sells violent computer games for profit should be treated differently than someone who borrowed a game from a friend," Riedl said.

Plan meets opposition

But the plan has met with criticism from politicians in the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition, and the opposition Green party. The plan is superficial and won't help, they say.

"Many politicians can't think of anything better to do in reaction to cases like Emsdetten," SPD interior expert Dieter Wiefelspütz told the daily Die Welt newspaper.

Amoklauf in Erfurter Schule - Kerzen und Blumen
Banning games is not an effective reaction to school shootings, Wiefelspütz saidImage: AP

Some SPD politicians agreed that a ban would make sense in the case of some games. But Ralf Stegner, the interior minister from the state of Schleswig-Holstein, said a ban "only appears to be the safest way to protect children and teenagers." He said it is more important to teach children and their parents how to deal with the media.

Double standard for games?

Meanwhile, Green party politicians warned that banning violent computer games could set up a double standard when compared with other entertainment media.

"Whoever considers banning games has to also use the same criteria when considering film and books," Volker Beck, the head of the Green parliamentary party, told the online newspaper Netzeitung. In addition, he said he considers a legally punishable ban on so-called "killer games" to be "short sighted and irrelevant."

It is more important for parents and guardians of the children to take responsibility for what media the minors in their care are consuming, he said.