Probation workers carry weapons

Gun Law in Germany: Guns for the Wrong

Around one million people in Germany legally own weapons. Right-wing extremists are among them, including the perpetrator from Hanau. How can that be?

A memorial plaque in Hanau commemorates the nine victims who were murdered for racist motives Photo: Felix Schmitt

On February 19, 2020, Tobias R. murdered nine people for racist motives in Hanau. He then shoots his mother and himself. He was posthumously diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Before that, he appeared several times in police and public prosecutor's files. As a marksman, he legally owned the pistols with which he shot people.

Whoever owns a weapon makes the difference between life and death. But who decides who gets these weapons? The answer is a very German one: clerks in around 550 weapons authorities - an administration that is located in cities or districts next to the vehicle registration office, the residents' registration office or the registry office. At the end of 2020, almost one million people in Germany owned a total of 5,013,046 weapons. The numbers come from the National Arms Register.

Among these people there are 1,203 actual or suspected right-wing extremists and hundreds of Reich citizens. This emerges from a response from the federal government to a small request from the left-wing parliamentary group. These figures make it clear that it makes a big difference whether clerks allow a gun permit or a vehicle. But how is this decision made?

A phone call in Kassel: Markus Weidauer is the head of weapons and explosives law in the district of Kassel and explains how to get a gun license, usually a gun license, in Germany. Weidauer explains: First of all, the person has to prove a corresponding need for possession of a weapon: To shoot, for example, or to hunt in a sports club, they have to prove a certain number of hours of practice. Strict rules apply to storage, transport and how the shooting sport is practiced.

The shooting friends: inside give their okay

The shooters must prove to the authorities that they are complying with them. They present stamped forms, examination certificates - issued by their shooting clubs or umbrella organizations - their own shooting friends: inside.

Once the test has been passed, the weapons authorities must check the owners for the first time and then every three years. If weapons are improperly stored or if there is a conviction, the authorizations can be denied or revoked. The possession card can also be withdrawn from anyone who is alcohol-dependent or mentally ill. But how do the employees of the authorities hear about it?

Out of 4,000 gun owners in the Kassel district, only 250 are personally visited and checked each year

You must apply for information on court judgments and investigations from the Federal Central Register and the Prosecutor's Office Procedure Register and obtain a statement from the local police station. In the past, they also had to obtain an opinion from the health department. Since 2012, this has been omitted due to a new administrative regulation due to data protection concerns.

Since then, if there are any doubts about personal suitability, the weapons authorities have requested a medical or psychological report from the applicant. The doubts must be sufficiently justified, in most cases they arise due to drunk driving, said Weidauer. Such an expert opinion can cost up to 500 euros; the applicant has to pay for it himself.

Little knowledge about Tobias R.

One year after the amended administrative regulation came into force, the attacker from Hanau, Tobias R., applied for his first gun ownership card. Did the new administrative regulation prevent the weapons authorities from getting relevant information from R.'s patient file? "There is no longer any information available today about the contents of the files in the health department," said the responsible weapons authority.Did you have other findings against R.? Only one, writes the weapons authorities: The information from the investigation registers contained a procedure for the import of narcotics. It was discontinued.

Around 4,000 gun owners live in the Kassel district. Five people work in the weapons authority. They process applications and check the stocks and storage of weapons at the weapon owners' premises. Such a check takes up to an hour, and Weidauer's team checks 250 gun owners every year. “Most people see us personally once in their life under gun law” - and usually with an announcement. "If nobody is at home, then we sent our people out for free," says Weidauer.

The weapons authority of the Main-Kinzig district, which Tobias R. had issued his weapon ownership card, is responsible for around 6,000 weapon owners. On-site inspections are only carried out in random samples or on a case-by-case basis; R.'s employees were not at home, the weapons authority informs on request.

In 2012, Markus H. applied for a gun ownership card from the city of Kassel. The weapons authority rejects his application with reference to his right-wing extremist activities. H. had been part of the Kassel neo-Nazi scene for years. He is suing the city's decision, and in 2015 the Kassel Administrative Court found him right.It sees no evidence of unreliability within the meaning of the Weapons Act. The Hessian Office for the Protection of the Constitution had not forwarded relevant findings to H. to the weapons authority. H. was allowed to own weapons legally. Later he is said to have bought a weapon for Stephan E. and practiced shooting with E. On the night of June 2, 2019 E. shoots the Kassel District President Walter Lübcke.

The problem with the protection of the constitution

The state is trying hard to weigh up the freedom to practice shooting sports and the risk of misusing weapons, and is closing loophole after loophole with new regulations. Most recently he obliged the weapons authorities to have applicants checked by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Because according to the law: Anyone who pursues efforts against the constitutional order may not own a weapon.

But why has the proportion of (presumably) right-wing extremist gun owners increased by a third in 2020 compared to the previous year? The new rule request to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has made these figures more visible, but has not yet prevented gun ownership.

Martina Renner sits for the left in the Bundestag and knows almost no other about Nazis there. She criticizes the fact that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution only passes on information about people if it has not obtained it from intelligence sources, such as V-Personen, but from open sources, such as public Facebook profiles. "That is one of the basic problems with this construction," says Martina Renner. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution does generate a large amount of information, but does not pass it on.

Stephan Kramer contradicts Renner. He is President of the Thuringian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution. On Twitter, he writes to Martina Renner: Not all VS information is a procedural obstacle. Kramer's authority has been registering extremists, and for a year now, whether they want to buy a weapon. With success? "There can be constellations where we have information about people, but cannot pass them on to the weapons authorities without revealing our sources," explains Kramer on the phone. “We then try to use open knowledge about a person to prove that they are unreliable within the meaning of the Weapons Act.” So far, this has worked in almost all cases.

The problem with the gun authorities

Weapons authorities could obtain precisely this - publicly available - information themselves. "This does not need the protection of the constitution," says Renner on the phone, but "a committed weapons law authority that also knows about the new manifestations of the extreme right and is staffed to carry out its own checks in this direction," she says the taz. There are no figures on the number of cases in which weapons authorities have actually refused or revoked a permit since the introduction of the rule request based on constitutional protection findings.

"As an executive we can only act, refuse or withdraw permits, if we receive relevant information from the other authorities," says Markus Weidauer, head of the weapons authority in the Kassel district. “But if we know from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, for example, that a person is only a sympathizer of the right-wing scene, then of course we take a closer look at them and check in the same week whether they are storing weapons and ammunition properly. That is often not the case. ”The authorities then withdraw the gun ownership card.

In September 2020, the LKA Lower Saxony found around 250 live firearms and ammunition as part of a house search of a man in Seevetal. He owned all weapons legally. According to the LKA, the 54-year-old was “a person with a right disposition”, with a “penchant for National Socialism”. This was confirmed by objects, portraits and other devotional objects taken into custody.

Was the gun authority that issued his gun licenses ever at home? The municipality of Seevetal does not want to comment on request. Only this much is communicated: There is a clerk working in the weapons authority. He looks after 808 gun owners. According to reports from a local newspaper, the two men are said to be friends.