Germany’s gun laws and enforcement could face an overhaul following a mass shooting in a Jehovah’s Witness hall in Hamburg. The attack killed seven people, including an unborn child. It also highlighted concerns about whether the country’s federal system is working effectively and emboldened those calling for stronger gun controls in the governing coalition.
Hamburg authorities have praised the police’s quick response to the attack. Within moments of the first shots being fired by Philipp Fusz, a 35-year-old freelance business consultant and former member of the Jehovah’s Witness group, a specialized unit arrived on the scene. Since 2021, Hamburg has been testing out a taskforce-like special unit to respond to mass shootings after four people died in Vienna during a November 2020 attack.
The unit, which consists of two vehicles carrying four heavily armed officers each while patrolling the city streets between noon and 10 pm from Monday to Thursday, has been hailed as a sign that the authorities have learned from previous mass shootings.
Authorities have credited the unit for saving lives by arriving within four minutes of the emergency calls and blasting their way into the church as Fusz, who left the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter 18 months ago, was attempting to systematically murder the 36 people inside with bursts of fire from his semi-automatic Heckler & Koch P30.
Fusz had left the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter 18 months ago, and his falling out with fellow members over a book he had written and self-published, which he compared to the Bible, may have contributed to his actions.
The tragedy came to an end after Fusz died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
People are questioning why the special unit is not deployed daily. In addition, Hamburg’s weapons control authority’s response to an anonymous letter sent two months ago about Fusz’s mental health has come under heavy scrutiny.
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Officers visited Fusz at his flat in west Hamburg on February 7. After discovering a loose bullet on top of his gun safe, the officers left him with only a verbal warning. In spite of the red flags of Fusz’s book and the anonymous letter, which suggested that Fusz was suffering from a psychological disorder but refused to seek treatment, the city’s health services did not appear to have any involvement with the surprise visit.
Fusz, a member of Hamburg’s Hanseatic Gun Club, possessed a weapons license since December 2021. The fact that Fusz was awarded the permit in spite of red flags is currently the subject of criticism as the people of Hamburg prepare to bury their dead.
In response to the shooting, Sebastian Fiedler, crime policy spokesman for the governing Social Democratic Party’s parliamentary group, stated that if the law had not been mismanaged, it would’ve worked to prevent the tragedy.
“If not only the on-site inspection had taken place but this publicly available information had also been consulted, then the law would have provided a sufficient basis for action to request a psychological report,” Fiedler told The Guardian. “You have to look why the security authorities didn’t get to this point.”
Federal Minister for the interior, Nancy Faeser, has also promised to review a draft amendment to the Weapons Act that has been under consideration since the arrest of 25 people suspected of planning an armed attack on parliament last December.
“You certainly have to go back to the law and see whether there are still gaps,” she said of the draft law which was published in January. “Above all, we want better networking between the authorities. Of course, the measures should also be proportionate.”
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Despite having some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, Germany has a high per capita ratio of firearms, with around one million people legally owning more than five million guns. The majority of gun owners are sport shooters, hunters, or foresters. While violence remains infrequent, an average of 155 people are killed each year by gunfire, reports The Guardian.
In the past two decades, Germany has been gradually tightening its gun control measures with each tragedy. After 16 people were killed in a school shooting in Erfurt in 2002, the age limit for gun ownership was raised from 18 to 21 years, and random spot checks were implemented to ensure proper gun storage after 16 people died in a shooting in a school in Winnenden, near Stuttgart, in 2009.
Authorities responded to the 2020 shooting in which nine people were murdered by Tobias Rathjen, 43, by introducing psychological health checks for gun owners. Rathjen had a history of paranoid delusions dating back to 2002, yet was still able to purchase a Glock 17 9mm.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, disputes Germany’s approach to preventing gun violence.
“Anti-gunners who claim mass shootings don’t happen anywhere but America are once again proven wrong,” Gottlieb said in a press release obtained by GunsAmerica. “More importantly, they should acknowledge that restrictive gun laws do not prevent evil people from committing violent crimes, and that they leave innocent people vulnerable to deadly attacks.”
Gottlieb states that attacks like this would be less tragic or frequent if gun laws were less restrictive.
“The typical reflex from politicians following such a tragedy is to further tighten down on law-abiding gun owners,” Gottlieb observed. “But the lesson to be drawn from Hamburg, and any other such incident, is that no law or set of laws can truly prevent some determined individual from committing mayhem. So, the logical solution is to make it easier for people to defend themselves in such situations.”
Faeser would not agree with Gottlleib’s assessment. She had already pledged to ban the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles. Currently, she has her sights set on further restrictions even though her coalition partner, the liberal FDP, has opposed the move.
Irene Mihalic, chief whip of the Greens parliamentary group, urged immediate action, stating that “not everything that is possible is currently being done to ensure that such people do not get hold of firearms.”
The death toll in Hamburg may increase, as four of the nine injured in the attack are in serious condition. However, doctors face a dilemma in treating those injured who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and oppose blood transfusions.
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What a shame.
In the home of “ Schutzenfest “ , people can
be as reckless and irresponsible , it appears , as
the rest of the world can be .
( That was a joke .)
So…they have laws that authorities did not follow, leading to the shooting. Now, they want to pass stricter laws? Why don’t they hold the failed authorities to some degree of accountability, rather than passing more laws which might still be not enforced.
When you have a human failure, passing laws is not the answer.
I agree with Gottlieb. However, if some bureaucrat is remiss in keeping an accurate database of offenders and other dangerous persons, there should be penalties for that. It is reasonable for societies to keep such records but they are only as good as the data that are put in them. Stay safe.
If only I could fire bursts from my semiautomatic . . .
use a large capacity mag then you can have full auto…..so i’ve heard
Hey look if germany is doing it then we should………lefties need to barrel sight when they go shooting……look down the hole in the little end of the gun when they pull the trigger!