The Reason the Germany Shooting Is a Big Deal in America

June 23rd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

As U.S. lawmakers debate reform measures in the wake of the Orlando massacre, a reported shooting at a movie theater in Germany on Thursday reminds us that gun violence is not an exclusively American phenomenon. Yet the relative infrequency of gun violence in Germany compared to America raises questions.

Details about the "threat situation" in Viernheim, Germany, near Frankfurt, slowly emerged as international media attempted to make sense of the incident. Ultimately, the gunman was killed by police and while initial reports claimed that at least 25 people were injured, possibly from tear gas, German authorities later said nobody was hurt, USA Today reports. The story appeared to contradict a common narrative: This sort of thing only happens in America.

Every day, almost 90 people die from gun violence in the U.S., according to the Brady Campaign, a group that advocates for gun reform. The U.S. accounts for approximately one-third of mass shootings globally, and experts say that the trend is largely related to the country's high rate of gun ownership. Germany also has high gun ownership — it ranks fourth highest in the world for guns per capita, The New York Times reports — but the last time Germany experienced a mass shooting was in 2009.

Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.


It can take several months to purchase a gun in Germany, a certification process that requires prospective gun buyers to prove that they understand how to handle the weapon, ammunition, and store them safely. Those under 25 must undergo a psychological exam if they want to purchase a weapon, too. Each firearm must be entered into a national registry database, and gun owners are subject to random inspections by regulatory agencies.

In contrast, Americans who visit registered gun shops must simply provide identification and submit to a federal background check. State laws vary, but there is no federal waiting period to purchase firearms. The background checks usually take a matter of minutes to complete and aren't required if you buy your gun online or at a gun show in most states.

After a gunman killed 15 people at a school in Germany in 2009, the country responded by enacting tougher gun laws. They imposed the psychological exam requirement for gun buyers under 25 and increased the waiting period for purchases. These reform measures have helped cut gun-related deaths in half in Germany, The Los Angeles Times reports.

"There are an awful lot of guns owned privately in Germany, but they’re not anywhere near as accessible as in the United States," Dietrich Oberwittler, a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, told The Times. "It’s the mentality here that’s so different."

Oberwittler described Germany's attitude toward guns:

"There is no gun mentality in Germany. It’s a society that doesn’t accept the idea that guns are needed for self-defense. There’s no one in Germany who would argue that. On the contrary, we see guns lead to a loss of security."

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