Does Germany need new gun control laws? That question has become the focus of political debate in Berlin six days after 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer went on a shooting spree in the southern German town of Winnenden, killing 15 people before committing suicide. Chancellor Angela Merkel told German radio on Sunday that checks need to be carried out to ensure that gun owners are storing their weapons properly. She even said that surprise checks could be part of any new strategy.
"We have to be attentive to all young people," Merkel said. "We have to do everything in our power to prevent children from having access to weapons."
For Claudia Roth, co-head of the Green Party in Germany, Merkel's proposal doesn't go nearly far enough. "In Germany there are around 7 million dangerous firearms in private ownership," she told German television on Monday morning. "Given this number, the only demand that should be made following Winnenden is: disarmament!"
Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, though, said over the weekend that it was still too early to draw any legislative conclusions from the school shooting. "We already have one of the strictest weapons laws in the world," he said in Berlin. "We now have to check whether rules were adhered to in this case."
And they may not have been. Public prosecutors on Monday opened an official investigation into Kretschmer's father. A member of a gun club, his father had 15 weapons at home. Fourteen of them were locked up in accordance with German law, but the 9 millimeter Beretta used by Tim Kretschmer during the shooting spree was not.
In Winnenden, the school where 12 of Kretschmer's victims died, including three teachers, remained closed on Monday, but several community halls and sports gymnasiums were open for those pupils interested in resuming classes. A number of psychologists were likewise on hand. Following a funeral on Saturday, more ceremonies are scheduled for the rest of this week. It is not yet clear when the school in Winnenden will be reopened.
But as the town itself seeks to return to normality, the political debate has expanded well beyond gun control. Many of the details from the investigation are similar to those from previous school shootings, including the revelation that Kretschmer enjoyed playing violent video games and indeed had played for a number of hours on the night before he went on his shooting spree. Calls for age limits or bans on such games have likewise been made in Berlin.
German papers on Monday take a look at what political consequences might be drawn from the shooting.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes on Monday:
"For most citizens, it is already almost impossible to obtain a pistol or a rifle. The only exceptions, aside from hunters, are members of gun clubs. Their two million members possess at least eight million firearms . Most school shooters are from households with weapons, mostly gun club members."
"But why should somebody who is neither threatened nor required to carry a weapon for his or her job have a collection of Glock pistols and high caliber weapons at home? The German chancellor has demanded better controls of gun owners, but that includes hundreds of thousands of households. It won't work."
"Given the voting power of gun-club members, politicians don't have the courage to take drastic action. The answer is to prohibit the use of live ammunition in gun clubs. For sporting needs, there are plenty of air guns, competition rifles and other such harmless weapons. But an agreement probably won't even be reached to drastically reduce the number of weapons owned per gun-club member and to lock up all weapons on the grounds of the gun-club itself rather than in private homes. But the gun lobby cannot deny one salient fact: the fewer weapons there are in a country, the safer are those who live there."
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The demand for a complete weapons ban will, unfortunately, remain unfulfilled. Shooting, after all, has a long tradition in Germany. More than 1.5 million Germans participate. There are countless shooting festivals and competitions with many hobby marksmen coming from the very center of society."
"Nothing is likely to change, a fact which puts Germany in some good company. We here in Germany like to chuckle over America's love affair with firearms; many shake their heads at the fact that every US citizen has a constitutional right to own a deadly weapon. But when it comes to the village shooting club, Germany isn't as far from the American model as it likes to think."
The Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"It comes as no surprise that Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a plea for stricter controls on gun owners. She would like to see officers do random checks to make sure that gun owners store their pistols, rifles and ammunition in the appropriate way. Should violators be slapped with a hefty penalty, then such controls could indeed help to discipline gun owners. For awhile at least. The shock from Winnenden is deep, among gun-lovers as well."
"But such controls will not be enough to prevent the next school shooting. There will always be people who have a desire to create a bloodbath, and they will find a way to fulfil their fantasy. Even in Germany. Merkel's proposal is an effort to make it more difficult. But first and foremost, it is an effort to calm German nerves and to show that Berlin is making an effort to prevent a repeat of Winnenden."