Gun legislation in Germany

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Gun legislation in Germany is considered among the strictest gun control in the world. The current law, the German Weapons Act (German: Waffengesetz), dates from 1972, and includes as well as modifies previous gun laws. This statute regulates the handling of knives, firearms and ammunition as well as acquisition, storage, commerce and maintenance of weapons. It also defines certain forbidden items such as nunchakus, switchblades and brass knuckles and bans their possession and distribution.

History of firearms restrictions in Germany[edit]

The 1919 Treaty of Versailles[edit]

From 1918-1920, with the defeat of Germany in World War I, the nation was forced to accept a series of devastating reparations after signing the Treaty of Versailles. The defeated Weimar government agreed to payments it did not have the ability to make, which would eventually lead to the 1920s inflationary depression. The treaty had stipulations to disarm the government. Fearing inability to hold the state together during the depression, the German government adopted a sweeping series of gun confiscation legislation against the citizens prior to completely disarming the German military. Article 169 of the Treaty of Versailles explicitly targeted the state: "Within two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, German arms, munitions, and war material, including anti-aircraft material, existing in Germany in excess of the quantities allowed, must be surrendered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers to be destroyed or rendered useless."[1]

In 1919, the German government passed the Regulations on Weapons Ownership, which declared that "all firearms, as well as all kinds of firearms ammunition, are to be surrendered immediately."[2] Under the regulations, anyone found in possession of a firearm or ammunition was subject to five years' imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 marks.

On August 7, 1920, rising fears whether or not Germany could have rebellions prompted the government to enact a second gun-regulation law called the Law on the Disarmament of the People. It put into effect the provisions of the Versailles Treaty in regard to the limit on military-type weapons.

In 1928, after a near decade of hyperinflation destroyed the structural fabric of the society, a rapidly expanding three-way political divide between the conservatives, National Socialists, and Communists prompted the rapidly declining conservative majority to enact the Law on Firearms and Ammunition. This law relaxed gun restrictions and put into effect a strict firearm licensing scheme. Under this scheme, Germans could possess firearms, but they were required to have separate permits to do the following: own or sell firearms, carry firearms (including handguns), manufacture firearms, and professionally deal in firearms and ammunition. Furthermore, the law restricted ownership of firearms to "...persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who can show a need for a (gun) permit." This law explicitly revoked the 1919 Regulations on Weapons Ownership, which had banned all firearms possession.

Partial relaxation of gun control in Nazi Germany[edit]

The 1938 German Weapons Act, the precursor of the current weapons law, superseded the 1928 law. As under the 1928 law, citizens were required to have a permit to carry a firearm and a separate permit to acquire a firearm. But under the new law:

  • Gun restriction laws applied only to handguns, not to long guns or ammunition. The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as was the possession of ammunition."[3]
  • The legal age at which guns could be purchased was lowered from 20 to 18.[4]
  • Permits were valid for three years, rather than one year.[4]
  • The groups of people who were exempt from the acquisition permit requirement expanded. Holders of annual hunting permits, government workers, and NSDAP members were no longer subject to gun ownership restrictions. Prior to the 1938 law, only officials of the central government, the states, and employees of the German Reichsbahn Railways were exempted.[3]
  • Manufacture of arms and ammunition continued to require a permit, with the revision that such permits would no longer be issued to Jews or any company part-owned by Jews. Jews were consequently forbidden from the manufacturing or dealing of firearms and ammunition.[3]

Under both the 1928 and 1938 acts, gun manufacturers and dealers were required to maintain records with information about who purchased guns and the guns' serial numbers. These records were to be delivered to a police authority for inspection at the end of each year.

Disarming Jews in Nazi Germany[edit]

On November 11, 1938, the Regulations Against Jews' Possession of Weapons was promulgated by Minister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick. This regulation effectively deprived all Jews living in those locations of the right to possess any form of weapons including truncheons, knives, or firearms and ammunition.[5] Some police forces used the pre-existing "trustworthyness" clause to disarm Jews on the basis “the Jewish population ‘cannot be regarded as trustworthy’”.[3]

Current laws[edit]

After 1945, even German police officers were initially not allowed to carry firearms. Private ownership of firearms was not allowed until after 1956. The legal status returned essentially to that of the Law on Firearms and Ammunition of 1928. The regulation of the matter was thoroughly revised in 1972, when the new restrictive Federal Weapons Act (Bundeswaffengesetz) became effective, partly as a reaction to the terror of the Red Army Faction.[6] It was developed in the Federal Weapons Act of 2002 and by amendments in 2008 and 2009. These laws were the result of a chain of school shootings in Erfurt, Emsdetten and Winnenden. They led to a public debate, in which blame was attributed to various elements of youth culture and society, including violent computer games, television programs, rock music and private gun ownership.[7]

The Weapons Act of 2002 increased the age requirements for licensed hunters and competition shooters. It also introduced the requirement of a psychological evaluation for persons under the age of 25 to fulfill the requirement of personal adequacy for large-bore firearms.

The first amendment became effective on April 1, 2008. The intention of that amendment was to ban certain kinds of weapons like airsoft-guns, tasers, so-called Anscheinswaffen (dummy-guns) and knives with blades longer than 12 cm from public places. They may still be carried in sealed wrappings and for professional or ceremonial purposes. Their use on private premises and in non-public places like gun clubs is not restricted.

The second amendment became effective on July 17, 2009. It introduced routine verifications of safe firearms storage by local firearms control offices at the homes of licensees. It also tightened the conditions for continuous necessity. A constitutional complaint (Verfassungsbeschwerde) was launched against the law, alleging a violation of the inviolability of the home, guaranteed by Art. 13 of the German constitution.[8]

The weapons law does not apply to military use of weapons within the Bundeswehr or to the police. The identity card of German troops and police officers contains a term allowing them to carry weapons. Nonetheless – within the military – issuance of guns and especially ammunition is very strictly controlled.

In Germany, the possession of any firearm with a muzzle energy exceeding 7.5 Joule (~5.5 ft·lbf; for comparison, a .22LR cartridge has a muzzle energy of 159 J) requires a valid firearms ownership license for any particular weapon. The current Federal Weapons Act adopts a two-tiered approach to firearms licensing.

Firearms ownership license[edit]

A firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte or WBK) or an entry to an existing WBK is mandatory for each weapon purchased. It entitles owners to purchase firearms and handle them on their own property and any private property with property owner consent. On public premises, a licensed firearm must be transported unloaded and in a stable, fully enclosing, locked container. A weapons ownership license does not entitle the owner to shoot the weapon or carry it on public premises without the prescribed container. Owners must obtain mandatory insurance and a means to securely store the weapon on their premises (a weapons locker). Blanket ownership licenses are issued to arms dealers, firearms experts and – with limitations – to collectors. Today, there are ca. four million legal private gun owners.[9]

A number of criteria must be met before a firearms ownership license is issued:

  • age of majority (18 years) (§ 4 WaffG)
  • trustworthiness (§ 5 WaffG)
  • personal adequacy (§ 6 WaffG)
  • expert knowledge (§ 7 WaffG) and
  • necessity (§ 8 WaffG)

Necessity is automatically assumed present for licensed hunters and owners of a carry permit (Waffenschein). Competition shooters can demonstrate necessity by being an active member of a Schützenverein (marksmen club) for over a year. A competition shooter can lose necessity – and be required to give up owned firearms – by abandoning the shooting sport. Self-defense is not a recognized ground for necessity, outside the narrow requirements of a carry permit.

Inheritors of legal firearms can obtain a permit without having to demonstrate expert knowledge or necessity, but without them, the firearm has to be blocked by an arms dealer (§ 20 WaffG) and an inheritor's license does not include the right to acquire or handle ammunition.

Persons who are

  • convicted felons
  • have a record of mental disorder or
  • are deemed unreliable (which includes people with drug or alcohol addiction histories and known violent or aggressive persons)

are barred from obtaining a firearms ownership license.

Firearms ownership licenses come in three color-coded varieties: Green licenses enable the holder to acquire and own all non-assault weapons. License holders are normally limited to two short firearms and unlimited number of long guns. Yellow licenses enable the holder to acquire and own single-shot and repeater long firearms and single-shot short ones, without having to obtain prior approval or demonstrate individual necessity. Acquisition is limited to two firearms per half-year. Red licenses are available to collectors and experts. They allow unlimited acquisition of firearms, for collectors they are usually constrained to a specific collectible "theme".

Firearms carry permit[edit]

Firearms carry permits (Waffenschein) entitle licensees to publicly carry legally owned weapons, loaded in a concealed or non-concealed manner. A mandatory legal and safety class and shooting proficiency tests are required to obtain such a permit. Carry permits are usually only issued to persons with a particular need for carrying a firearm. This includes some private security personnel and persons living under a raised threat-level like celebrities and politicians. They are valid up to three years and can be extended. Carrying at public events is prohibited. Licensed hunters do not need a permit to carry weapons while hunting.

Small firearms carry permit[edit]

A small firearms carry permit (Kleiner Waffenschein) was introduced in 2002. It can be obtained without having to demonstrate expert knowledge, necessity or a mandatory insurance. The only requirements are that the applicant be of legal age, trustworthy and personally adequate. It entitles the licensee to publicly carry gas pistols (both of the blank and irritant kind) and flare guns. These types of firearms are freely available to adults; only the actual carrying on public property requires the permit. Similar to the full permit, carrying at public events is prohibited.

Firearms without a license[edit]

For persons over 18 years of age, a license is not required to own a single shot percussion firearm developed before 1870, as well as all muzzle loaders with a flintlock or earlier design. Participating in competitive shooting can require additional permits, as well as the purchase of black powder or similar.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Treaty of Versailles: Articles 159-213; Military, Naval, and Air Clauses
  2. ^ Verordnung des Rates der Volksbeauftragen über Waffenbesitz, Reichsgesetzblatt 1919, Volume I, § 1, page 31–32.
  3. ^ a b c d Harcourt, Bernard E (2004) "On the NRA, Adolph Hitler, Gun Registration, and the Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Culture Wars (A Call to Historians)" p 20-21. Harcourt is a professor at the University of Chicago.
  4. ^ a b Alex Seitz-Wald (January 11, 2013). "The Hitler gun control lie". salon.com. Retrieved January 19, 2013. 
  5. ^ Halbrook, Stephen P. (2000) "Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews." Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol 17. No. 3. p.528.
  6. ^ Police of North Rhine-Westphalia on History of German Weapons Law (german)
  7. ^ Der Spiegel: Winnenden Commentary – Do You Know What Your Children Are Doing?
  8. ^ Presseerklärung der FvLW e.V. zur Verfassungsbeschwerde[dead link]
  9. ^ NDR: Grundwissen privater Waffenbesitz

See also[edit]

External links[edit]