Do you own firearms and why

German gun madness

Rudolph Dehning is not a fan of the new gun law. In the eyes of the hunter and arms dealer, the tightening means one thing above all else: more bureaucracy. "There sit lawyers who have nothing to do with weapons and define things they know nothing about," he says bitterly. The weapons law was never good, but at least tolerable, a tried and tested system that served its purpose. Until now, sport shooters and hunters could easily buy rifles and pistols in his shop in downtown Hamburg - in different designs and quantities, depending on the owner's license. Then in 2015 Islamists carried out cruel terrorist attacks in Paris and the EU Firearms Directive was launched. Now that it has found its way into German arms law, arms dealers like Dehning are concerned. Some fear that they may have to close their shop.

The fronts are hardened. On the one hand, the opponents of arms who see rifles and pistols as murder weapons, as amok instruments - like in Winnenden 2009, where a youngster killed 15 people with his father's pistol. On the other hand there are gun fans, technology enthusiasts, athletes and collectors. Somewhere in between those who try to mediate. Who are sometimes more, sometimes less successful in trying to form the jumble of paragraphs and exception regulations in order to somehow find a mediocre balance between control, security and freedom.

But the discussion often lacks the necessary selectivity: a gun ownership card is not a gun license. A smaller Gun license in turn has with one huge about as much to do as driving bumper cars with Formula 1 races. Many use these terms synonymously and yet mean something completely different.

Who is allowed to own firearms in Germany? How big are the German arsenals? And what will change with the new gun law?

All private weapons and weapon parts for which an official permit is required in Germany are registered in the National Arms Register. These can be essential components such as interchangeable systems or certain silencers as well as complete pistols and rifles.

Anyone who wants to carry such a firearm ready to fire in public needs one large gun license, and that is extremely rare in Germany. As a rule, the owners are bodyguards or employees of money and security transports. Hunters and marksmen, on the other hand, have a gun ownership card. You are allowed to buy certain weapons, but you have to be careful never to transport them loaded. Otherwise, in the worst case scenario, they'll be rid of their shotgun. And the ownership card at the same time.

Currently, almost a million Germans are allowed to own live firearms (exactly 949,992, as of December 31, 2019). The number has decreased slightly over the past three years.

The red gun ownership card (a total of around 10,000 WBK registered, as of December 31, 2018)

A few are experts who write for trade magazines, for example. Others are collectors who can prove that they have a valuable collection from a cultural and historical point of view.

Example of gun possession with a yellow WBK: Over and under shotgun

The yellow gun ownership card for sport shooters is much more common (around 140,000 cards registered). This allows owners to buy so-called single loaders, multi-shot percussion weapons or repeating weapons.

The danger posed by such firearms in a criminal offense is rated by the state as less high than that of weapons for which a green weapon possession card is required.

Example of gun ownership with a green WBK: semi-automatic self-loading rifle

The green gun ownership card is the most common (around 1,600,000 cards are registered). It applies to hunters and marksmen who want to buy hunting rifles, semi-automatic pistols or semi-automatic rifles, for example. The private possession of fully automatic weapons is generally prohibited in Germany.

How do you get a gun legally?

Arms dealer Dehning: "Everything was visible and traceable at all times. Everyone was happy."

An example: If a marksman (owner of a green WBK) wants to buy a semi-automatic pistol of the Glock 17 type, it works like this:

The Marksman goes to with his green WBK Weapons authority. Among other things, he must prove that he has the necessary Firearms expertise and the Glock-17 pistol is really for shooting sports needed. Besides, he is not allowed to criminal record its still mentally ill.

If he meets all the requirements, he gets Pre-entries for the weapon and its ammunition. He is now entitled to purchase the pistol within one year.

The same in the gun shop Dealers the personal data of the buyer with the WBK. If everything is correct, the customer receives the firearm.

Buyers and sellers are obliged to report the transaction to the authorities within two weeks.

These stores the data in their system. With the introduction of the National Arms Register (2013) were the 552 local arms agencies digitally networked with each other.

National Arms Register

What will change with the new weapons law?

The National Arms Register II
Arms dealers and manufacturers are linked to the National Arms Register. The dealer reports weapon purchases directly to the authorities - no longer by letter or fax, but digitally. If the dealer buys a weapon from the customer, he must now also report this to the authorities.

National Arms Register II

The protection of the constitution is more closely involved
The weapons authorities now have to report directly to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution when a new license is issued and when someone loses their license under the law on weapons. The gun possession of people at risk should be better monitored.

What will change with the new weapons law?

Identification through unique codes
Firearms and important weapon parts, weapon permits and persons should in future be able to be identified quickly and without doubt using an identification number. The tracking of firearms is to be improved in this way.

What will change with the new weapons law?

The new law is intended to make the arms market more transparent and to make it more difficult for criminals to have access to firearms. But even proponents criticize: in many cases it may hit the wrong people.

"A little more sense of proportion would have been good"

Niels Heinrich is a chief detective and used to deal with gun crimes. Then he helped set up the National Arms Register, the control center of which he now runs. If authorities or dealers no longer know what to do, ask him. He knows the gun law in all its details, as an expert he was invited to the Bundestag to propose improvements to the law.

What does he think of the new gun law? "The digital connection of arms dealers and manufacturers was long overdue, as was better networking with the protection of the constitution. But in several other points the new arms law overshoots the target.

The redefinition of essential weapon parts is such a case. Even experienced weapons experts start pondering when they are supposed to evaluate what is actually ahead of them according to the new law. Is the pistol part now reportable or not? Is possession without permission a punishable offense? If experts have problems with this, how should normal hunters or sport shooters see through?

Heinrich finds the new regulations on salute weapons, also known as theatrical weapons, particularly problematic. Salute weapons are firearms that used to be fully functional and were then converted so that they can only fire blank cartridges. In future, these weapons will only be allowed to be owned by those who have the appropriate license.

Parisian supermarket Hyper Cacher: In a terrorist attack in January 2015, the perpetrator used a converted Ceska rapid-fire rifle, type Sa vz 58.

The reason: In 2015, theater weapons were reactivated and used for killing during terrorist attacks in Paris. However, the rapid-fire rifles used were already illegal under German law at that time - however, they could be obtained from Eastern Europe for years without great difficulty. In contrast to this, the salute weapons in this country are almost exclusively rifles from the period from 1886 to 1945. "The risk potential of these weapons is much lower. In addition, every modification was type-approved by the Federal Criminal Police Office and is currently even subject to individual testing," says Heinrich.

The expert estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 such weapons are privately owned in Germany. Often they were legally bought by mail order catalog decades ago. Now many owners should be surprised that they become lawbreakers - unless they are given permission to own the property. And the chances are bad, because hardly anyone will be able to prove that they are using the weapons for theater or film productions. The owners can now either scrap their expensive weapons or, in the event of a police check, become part of the crime statistics. "Most of the perpetrators who become illegal gun owners in this way are innocent citizens to date. They do not pose a significant threat to public safety and order. A little more sense of proportion would certainly have been good," says Heinrich.

Instead, other serious security loopholes in the new gun law are being ignored.

Criminal employees and self-made murder weapons

Who exactly works in the gun shop? Who is on the assembly line in the arms factory? The owners of the weapons companies are checked by the authorities, but not the employees. For security authorities, this is a blind spot that can become a problem, as a case at the North Rhine-Westphalian arms manufacturer Umarex shows: From July 2015, an employee is said to have smuggled construction drawings and parts for three different semi-automatic pistols from the factory in order to make them functional put together. As of October 2016, he is said to have sold around 70 illegal handguns - including to rocker gangs.

08/28/2019: Firearms that were seized from several raids in the criminal milieu. Including handguns from Umarex without identification.

There are also no stricter regulations in the new law with regard to self-made firearms. The materials for making such weapons are available in hardware stores, construction instructions on the Internet. Given the appropriate know-how, a 3D printer can be used to build metal-plastic hybrids or rudimentary firearms made entirely of metal. Although there is a great risk that these weapons will not work properly and sometimes even explode in the hand, numerous models are functional and deadly: The right-wing extremist gunman from Halle (Saale) used self-made submachine guns and shotguns in his act in October 2019. Such ghost weapons leave almost no traces. The weapon parts are not recorded in any database, the manufacturing history is unclear and the route of the weapon cannot be traced to the authorities.