In Europe's league of school shootings, Germany comes top

The latest killings, by a 17-year-old, have reignited a debate over the country's unenviable record

Chancellor Angela Merkel was at Chequers yesterday, attempting to bridge her major differences with Gordon Brown over the global financial crisis. Guns may not have been on the agenda, but there can be little doubt that the two made more than passing references to last week's bloodbath at Germany's Albertville secondary school.

Germany is now second only to the US in terms of the number of deaths that have resulted from school shootings. It is in the unenviable position of being top of the league in Europe, and many are beginning to ask whether radical changes to the country's gun control laws are not long overdue.

The carnage at the school in the provincial town of Winnenden, near Stuttgart, was wrought by Tim Kretschmer a 17-year-old former pupil. He walked calmly into three classrooms on Wednesday and gunned down eight teenagers and three women teachers. All were shot in the head at close range. He later killed three bystanders outside the school before he was cornered by police and turned his gun on himself.

Yesterday German police said they had averted a second school massacre that was planned for 20 April, Adolf Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the US Columbine high school killings of 1999. They found bomb-making equipment in the bedroom of a teenage schoolboy who had boasted to his fellow pupils that he was planning to blow up his school near Düsseldorf. The carnage could have been even worse than in Erfurt in 2002, when Robert Steinhäuser returned to his school and gunned down 16 people.

After the Dunblane massacre in Britain in 1996, there was a public outcry that led to a complete ban on handguns and much tougher UK gun controls. Should Germany consider something similar? The evidence gleaned by police in the aftermath of Winnenden might lead one to think so.

Not only did Kretschmer's father keep 15 firearms and a staggering 4,600 rounds of ammunition in the family home, he also encouraged his son to use guns, even building a firing range for him. All this was perfectly legal, except for one thing. Although 14 guns and the bullets were in a safe, Kretschmer Snr kept a 9mm Beretta pistol in his bedroom in case of burglars. That was the weapon his son took, although it turned out that Tim Kretschmer knew the safe's combination and used it to get the ammunition.

Like some two million Germans, the adult Kretschmer is a member of one of the country's hundreds of Schützenvereine, or shooting clubs. Membership includes training with air guns and then firearms. After a year, new members are allowed to apply for a weapons permit, which entitles them to buy and keep guns at home, although not to carry them in public. This helps to explain why there are about 20 million guns held legally in Germany, mostly at home.

Tim Kretschmer's father took him to his shooting club regularly, and, only a few weeks before his son's shooting spree, taught him how to use the Beretta on one of the club ranges. Steinhäuser, the Erfurt school killer, was a full member of a shooting club. Whether these facts will bring changes in the law is another matter, however.

Germany's biggest shooting organisation, the Marksmen's Association, has 1.45 million members, and they all have votes. Last week the clubs continued to argue, despite Winnenden, that there was no need to tighten gun laws. But a gun control debate has now started. Winnenden's MP has called for all guns to be kept in shooting clubs.

Mrs Merkel faces a general election this September. The country's gun lobby is composed mostly of staunch supporters of her conservative Christian Democratic Party, and the Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has already gone out of his way to calm their fears. "There is no evidence that stricter gun laws could have prevented the gunman running amok in Winnenden," he insisted last week.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine