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.
- 1 Actual use and number of firearms
- 2 History of firearms restrictions in Germany
- 3 Current laws
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Actual use and number of firearms
Germany's National Gun Registry introduced at the end of 2012 counted 5.5 million firearms in use, which are legally owned by 1.4 million people in the country. About 1.5 Million sport shooters in several thousand Schützenvereine own and use guns for sport, about 400,000 hunters have a licensed gun, about 300,000 collect guns and about 900,000 own an inherited gun. However, estimates of the actual guns in use go up to 45 Million. While gun ownership is widespread and associations and ranges for shooting sports and the use of historical guns and weapons in festivals are not being tabooed, the use of guns for private self-defence purposes is restricted.
History of firearms restrictions in Germany
The Ewige Landfriede ("everlasting Landfriede", Perpetual Public Peace) ruling of 1495, banned the medieval right of vendetta (Fehderecht) in the German realm. It passed at the Diet of Worms and had been enacted by the German king and later emperor, Maximilian I. In the Holy Roman Empire Claims were henceforth no longer to be decided in battle, but confirmed through the legal process. It established a certain monopoly of the state in the use of organized armed force. The German nationalist movement asked for Volksbewaffnung, a militia system according to the Swiss role model, but failed with those requests in the German revolutions of 1848–49. However, the ownership of guns and weapons itself was not generelly restricted but reglementation about carrying arms in public came into use.
The request for a general disarming of the citizens and a generic gun law has been imposed by the Allies after WWI. It has been introduced by the Weimar Republik, the actual enforcement was less stringent, as no general disarming took place immediately after the war. Various incidents, like the Kapp Putsch 1920 and the assassination of Walther Rathenau 1922 lead to actual enforcements. The Weimar republic saw various Freikorps and paramilitary forces like the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, the Stahlhelm and the Nazi SA.
The concept of trustworthiness of the owner and need for the special purpose of the user (e.g. hunting, sport or self-defence) has been established since then in any German gun law.
Regulation after the 1919 Treaty of Versailles
From 1918 to 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 treaty had stipulations to disarm the government. The German government adopted a series of gun legislation against private arms ownership to avoid 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."
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." 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.
Gun regulation of the Third Reich
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."
- The legal age at which guns could be purchased was lowered from 20 to 18.
- Permits were valid for three years, rather than one year.
- The groups of people who were exempt from the acquisition permit requirement expanded. Holders of annual hunting permits, government workers, and NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers' Party, aka the Nazi party) 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.
- 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.
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.
The 1938 Regulations Against Jews' Possession of Weapons, promulgated the day after Kristallnacht, effectively deprived all Jews living under the Third Reich of the right to possess any form of weapons including truncheons, knives, or firearms and ammunition. Before that, some police forces used the pre-existing "trustworthiness" clause to disarm Jews on the basis that "the Jewish population 'cannot be regarded as trustworthy'".
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. 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.
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.
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.
The weapons law considers suppressors the same as the firearm it is designed for, which means that if a firearm may be bought without a license, the acquisition and possession of suppressor for this firearm does also not require a license.
There are two restrictions regarding magazines in Germany. When sports shooting in Germany, it is illegal to use a magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, and when hunting, it is illegal to use a magazine capable of holding more than two rounds. These restrictions apply only to semi-automatic long guns. The acquisition and possession of magazines for semi-automatic long guns of any capacity is legal for anyone without a license.
Firearms ownership license
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.
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)
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.
The firearms ownership licenses are issued in three color-coded varieties, depending on the applicants' necessity. While self-defence is usually not accepted as a reasonable grounds for such a license, the following ones are:
- Competitive shooting: Members of gun clubs, who have been practicing regularly (min. once a month) for at least a year can apply for a Green licenses, if a registered shooting association, which the shooter has to be a member of, confirms their active involvement in the sport. Two handguns, that are compliant with the shooters' shooting associations' rules are allowed to be purchased these holders, as well as three semi-automatic rifles, which also have to be allowed by the associations' rules. Each firearm must be pre-approved before purchase. Shooters wishing to purchase more than firearms of the types mentioned above have to acquire another approval from their association, which needs to state that the person participated in competitions regularly and is in need of the firearm, and again, the purchase of each firearm must be pre-approved. This process needs to be repeated for every firearm above the limit mentioned above. Additionally, persons who are a member of a gun club that is a member of a shooting association, are issued a Yellow License, with which the holder is allowed to own an unlimited number of single-shot and bolt- or lever-action long guns, and single-shot handgun, without having to obtain prior approval or demonstrate individual necessity. However, no more than two firearms may be purchased within six months by a competitive shooter.
- Hunting: People who have passed the German hunter's exam and purchased a hunters' license may purchase an unlimited number of long guns, that are not banned hunting use, which mostly only applied to fully automatic rifles. Hunter's do not have to seek prior approval, but have to register the firearm within two weeks after the purchase. They are also allowed two handguns, but their purchase has to be pre-approved. More handguns may be purchased if the person provides a genuine reason.
- Collecting and firearms' experts: A red license is issued to collectors and firearms' experts. With this type of license, all kinds of firearms, except "forbidden firearms" may be purchased without prior approval. While an expert's license is valid for all guns, collectors have to provide a "theme" of firearms they want to acquire and are limited to those.
Firearms banned from sporting use
The following firearms are banned from sporting use in Germany, and may not be purchased with a license issued with the necessety of sporting:
- Handguns with a barrel length of less than 7.62 cm (3 inches)
- Semi automatic long guns with a built-in magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds
- Semi automatic firearms that closely resemble a prohibited firearm (see below), if
- the barrel length is less than 42 cm, or
- the weapon is a bullpup design, or
- the shell casing of the ammunition the firearm is designed for is less than 40mm
This restriction only applies to persons with sports shooters license and not to those with hunters- and collectors licenses.
Firearms that do not require a license
For persons over 18 years of age, a license is not required to own or even carry a single shot percussion firearm developed before January 1, 1871, as well as all muzzle loaders with a flintlock or earlier design. However, the purchase of black powder or similar in order to actually use the firearms requires a license, except when purchased at a shooting range for immediate use at that range.
Firearms that are prohibited in Germany may not be owned by anyone except with a special license from the Federal Criminal Police Office, which is only given to manufacturers, exporters, and, on rare occasions, collectors. The most important one's are:
- Firearms defined as "War Weapons" by the law (tanks, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns)
- Fully automatic firearms
- Pump-action shotguns, if
- the stock has been replaced by a pistol grip or
- the overall length is less than 95 cm, or
- the barrel length is less than 45 cm.
- Firearms designed to look like an everyday object in order to conceal their nature
- Handguns made after January 1, 1970 that fire ammunition with a caliber of less than 6.3mm, except those for rimfire ammunition.
Firearms carry permit
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 loaded weapons while hunting, and unloaded weapons while directly traveling to and from such an activity.
Small firearms carry permit
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.
- "German group denounces weapons law as unconstitutional". Deutsche Welle.
- "Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Germany". Law Library of Congress.
- Zeitung, Badische. "Deutschland: Deutsches Waffenrecht: 45 Millionen Waffen sind im Umlauf - badische-zeitung.de". www.badische-zeitung.de. Retrieved 2016-01-23.
- Historie des Waffenrechts (History of gun law in Germany, website of Mönchengladbach Police)
- Treaty of Versailles: Articles 159-213; Military, Naval, and Air Clauses
- Verordnung des Rates der Volksbeauftragen über Waffenbesitz, Reichsgesetzblatt 1919, Volume I, § 1, page 31–32.
- Allgemeinen Automobil-Zeitung, Jg. 89, 1928, Nr. 49, p. 7.
- Uwe Fraunholz: Motorphobia. Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2002, ISBN 3-525-35137-2, P. 153.
- 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.
- Alex Seitz-Wald (January 11, 2013). "The Hitler gun control lie". salon.com. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
- 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.
- Police of North Rhine-Westphalia on History of German Weapons Law (german)
- Der Spiegel: Winnenden Commentary – Do You Know What Your Children Are Doing?
- Presseerklärung der FvLW e.V. zur Verfassungsbeschwerde Archived July 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
- NDR: Grundwissen privater Waffenbesitz
- German Department of the Interior on German Weapons Law (german)
- On the NRA, Adolf Hitler, Gun Registration, and the Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Culture Wars (A Call to Historians), by Prof. Bernard E. Harcourt of the University of Chicago. 2004.
- Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews", by Stephen P. Halbrook, in Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 17, No. 3. 2000.
- Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”, by Stephen P. Halbrook, The Independent Institute, 2013.
- Comprehensive information regarding German weapons law from the perspective of USAREUR (English)