Why mass shootings wouldn’t happen that often in Germany
April 13, 2023
America is talking again about gun regulations now, days after another mass shooting, this one in Louisville, where four people were killed and eight injured at a downtown bank Monday. The suspect was killed. This just weeks after another school shooting happened, this time in Nashville, Tennessee. A woman killed three adults and three nine-year-old children. The police entered the building and managed to subdue the shooter.
The truth is that these kinds of things happen so often that they are not even shocking anymore. Since 1999, more than 300,000 children have experienced gun violence at school. For years, the Washington Post has tracked the number of students affected by school shootings. According to the non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, in 2023, so far, there have been at least 39 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 17 deaths and 30 injuries nationally.
It shouldn’t be like that. In other countries, like Germany, so many mass shootings would never happen. Here is why:
First of all, we have strict gun legislation in Germany. Actually, it is one of the countries in Europe with the strictest gun laws. According to the weapons law in force in Germany, you need a weapons possession card to own or buy a firearm, and a weapons license to use or carry a loaded firearm. A gun permit allows gun owners only to transport the firearm, not to carry it on the body. This means that it must be carried unloaded and locked, for example in a locked case. At least five criteria are checked before the weapon possession card is issued.
Anyone who is not a sports shooter, hunter or gun collector must prove that they are significantly more at risk than other citizens. Those under 25 years must have their mental integrity certified. The law requires a gun safe for all. In addition, officials test weapons knowledge. Only then does a personal check and the application for a weapons possession card follow.
A big difference with the U.S. is also that guns are not accepted in German society. Apart from hunters and sport shooters, hardly any private person would own a firearm. Weapons are not seen as a tool for defense or protection, but are considered dangerous. Many are more deterred by it. Only a few would proudly pose with a gun. Weapons are not part of society’s self-image in Germany.
Lastly, our gun lobby isn’t that strong in politics, at least when it comes to privately- owned weapons. The interests are simply elsewhere. Germany is one of the world’s most important weapons exporters. The current world situation, with global crises and conflicts such as the Ukraine war, is further boosting business for manufacturers of weapons, vehicles and fighter jets. This, too, can be criticized.
Of course, there is gun violence in Germany, too. But fatal shootings like the one at a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall in the German city of Hamburg are very rare. Seven people, including an unborn baby, have been killed. The 35-year-old sports shooter had a gun license.
But the numbers of those happenings are much lower than in the U.S.
The state of Illinois has stricter gun control than other states. This is a result of the mass shooting in Highland Park near Chicago in June 2022. Seven people were killed and over 30 were injured. As a journalist, Jeff Williams, from SIU’s radio station, covered shootings in the past.
He says: “The shooting in Highland Park has led to laws becoming stricter on so-called assault style weapons like RA-15s or AK-47s. These military-style weapons are generally used by the army.”
They are widely sold in the state of Illinois and very popular with gun enthusiasts.
“That type of weapon is very high-powered and has a long range. The bullets fly up to two miles. They are typically designed to do maximum damage,” he says.
But it isn’t efficient for hunting. An analysis of public mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths found that more than 85 % of such fatalities were caused by assault rifles. In the absence of federal laws regulating assault weapons, states must do something themselves to protect their residents from mass shootings, such as regulate or even ban the sale and manufacture of these particularly dangerous weapons.
“Those who support the gun ban believe that these weapons have no practical use for application in civilian life,” Williams says.
Gun advocates refer to the right of individuals to own a gun regardless of its force.
Williams recognizes inaccuracies in the law: “There is no definition of what a constitutional gun is. So, we can see several gray areas in gun legislation.”
So as a first step, federal laws could be sharpened to ban dangerous weapons for private ownership. Whereas in other countries, it can take months to get a firearm; in the U.S. it sometimes takes less than an hour to buy one. Therefore, the next step would also be to extend the purchase period. This would also reduce the risk of a student impulsively buying a gun and going on a rampage in his school out of anger.
Sometimes there is not even a background check. This is because the so-called instant background check does not apply if the gun is purchased from a private person. The background check must be more accurate and include mental health and personal motivation for the purchase of a weapon. It could also help if gun owners were not allowed to simply carry their firearm on their body. Locked cases for transport and gun safes for the home prevent accidents. Lastly, a firearms license should be a prerequisite for the purchase, where the conscientious handling of the weapon is taught.
John Shaw, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute on SIU’s campus, says: “Most Americans I talked to feel like we should have a stronger gun legislation. Not many understand why having a military weapon is a constitutional right.”
There are more guns in the United States than there are Americans, he says.
“Almost every week there is a school shooting. We got to be better than this,” Shaw says.
But he is not optimistic that the situation will change soon:
“The way our political system is designed, the gun advocates will always have enough votes to block significant legislation.”