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German gun controls to be tightened

Gutenberg Gymnasium School, Erfurt
The killer is thought to have been a former pupil at this school before being expelled  

ERFURT, Germany -- The shooting in the town of Erfurt came on the same day that the German parliament approved a new bill tightening the country's already strict gun controls.

The lower house of the German parliament voted on the new measure hours after Friday's deadly shooting spree -- but the crime did not figure in the debate as the news had barely emerged.

The gunman, a disgruntled student, used a handgun and a pump-action gun in Friday's incident. (Full story)

A national debate is now expected on how the law can be stiffened still further.

One in three Germans are estimated to have access to guns, Reuters news agency quotes police as saying.

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About 10 million guns are legally owned, while police think twice as many are illegally held -- in a population of 82 million.

Many of the outlawed weapons are believed to be flooding in from eastern Europe, especially since the collapse of the former Communist bloc, and conflicts in the Balkans.

The country's military conscription system also means many are trained to use firearms.

Under the law approved on Friday, owners of airguns must now carry a licence.

Germany already has strict laws governing gun ownership, except on airguns and starter pistols which are available to anyone aged 18 or over.

People wanting to buy a hunting rifle must undergo background checks that can last up to a year and those wanting a gun for sport must be a member of a club and obtain a licence from police. Gun collectors also need a permit.

Gun ownership groups say stricter gun control would make no inroads into crime.

Joachim Streitberger, head of the Weapons Rights Forum, an association representing legal weapons owners, told Reuters: "According to police statistics, only 0.004 percent of armed crimes are committed with a legally obtained firearm."

It is not clear how the killer, who later locked himself in a classroom before turning the gun on himself, obtained his weapons.

The upper house of parliament is due to vote on the new gun control law in late May, but observers say Friday's tragedy raises the possibility that it could be amended.


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