March 4. 2024. 11:15

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Coalition row complicates push to tighten German gun laws

German interior minister Nancy Faeser has begun work to tighten gun laws in response to a gun attack in Hamburg last week that left eight dead.

The Social Democratic Party politician’s attempted rapid response to the tragedy could yet fall victim to tensions in Berlin’s ruling coalition – in particular the struggling Free Democratic Party.

“No one can simply go back to business as usual, it’s clear we need tighter and more regular checks [of gun-owners],” said Ms Faeser on Monday.

Hours after last Thursday’s gun attack in a Jehovah’s Witness hall in Hamburg, police revealed that, months earlier, they had received an anonymous tip-off that the 35-year-old gunman was mentally unstable.

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Following up on the tip-off, two police officers made an unannounced visit to his home but said he had been co-operative and polite, giving them no grounds for confiscating his handgun.

The Hamburg gunman bought his weapon last December and applied for his marksman gun licence online. After the gunman fired 135 rounds in the attack before taking his life, police found further ammunition in a rucksack and 300 further rounds in his apartment.

Germany has 5.5 million registered guns and, its politicians insist, some of Europe’s tightest gun laws. Calls for even tighter laws have been growing since nine people were shot dead in the western city of Hanau, near Frankfurt, three years ago.

The vast majority of German guns are for recreational use in a controlled setting; anyone who carries a gun with them regularly, such as hunters and forest rangers, require an additional time-limited permit to do so.

The new proposals would ban private citizens from owning any semi-automatic weapons and permit closer communication on gun permits between police, intelligence services and gun associations.

In addition the minister would require all gun licence applicants to submit a psychological assessment, paid for by themselves. At present this is only required for applicants under 25.

While Ms Faeser’s Green coalition colleagues are ready to back reform, pushback is coming from the liberal FDP.

It says that mandatory psychological assessments will stigmatise gun owners and limit the freedoms of hunters and hobby marksmen and women.

“With a law we won’t be able to prevent psychologically disturbed people to acquire weapons,” said Wolfgang Kubicki, FDP deputy leader, to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The FDP also opposes a proposal for storage of all recreational weapons at gun clubs and shooting ranges, requiring a second person to access them.

This, the party says, would be a “disproportionate impingement of the property rights” of owners of legally acquired weapons, adding: “It also overlooks the fact that it is not possible to protect such storage facilities from break-ins.”

The FDP’s critics suggest the liberal party is itself being opportunistic by threatening to block a law to boost its profile and public support, down to just five per cent in some polls.

Meanwhile in Hamburg, local emergency call operators have told a city newspaper of the panic of callers on Thursday evening. One reported a caller saying “Shots, just shots, someone’s firing everywhere” before the line went dead.