How were guns different 60 years ago?

Gun Law More and more guns: can tightening the law stop the trend?

Anyone who wanted to access the website of the National Arms Register (NWR) in the first few days of September had to bring one thing above all: a lot of patience. The site was overloaded - presumably because hundreds of arms dealers and owners in Germany wanted to register weapons there.

A change in the law that has so far met with a largely positive response, for example from the Police Union (GdP) Saxony-Anhalt. "Every tightening of the gun law suits us," said state chairman Uwe Bachmann to the MDR. Bachmann particularly welcomed the fact that individual parts such as certain gun barrels will also be digitally registered in the future.

Relief for shooters

Hans Gülland, Vice President of the Thuringian Shooting Association, can hardly criticize anything about the law, even if he prefers to describe it as a change rather than a tightening. It was a great compromise, he told the MDR. Gülland himself has been active as a marksman for decades. The club members - in Thuringia there are around 20,000 at the Schützenbund - now have to prove their "need" for their own weapon every five years. In concrete terms: every quarter you have to shoot at least once on the shooting range.

There are reasons why Gülland is satisfied with the law. Because the federal government had been very accommodating to the shooters in the end: until September, shooters in many administrative districts had to prove significantly more often that they regularly practice on the shooting range. In addition, the regulation no longer applies ten years after the license to purchase a weapon has been granted. And: In the future, the shooting receipts will only be required for the weapon categories short or long weapons and no longer for each individual weapon.

So no legal criticism from the shooting association. GdP boss Bachmann, on the other hand, fundamentally complains that it is now easier to get weapons through online trading, for example. "Every weapon that is in circulation is a danger," says Bachmann. He is alluding to the rise in small gun licenses and gun ownership cards in Germany. This is worrying.

Small gun licenses entitle you to carry so-called alarm weapons, irritant weapons or signal weapons (SRS weapons) in public. Gun ownership cards for the acquisition and possession of guns requiring a license.

Small gun license: rapid increase in Germany

In fact, there has been a strong demand in the Federal Republic of Germany in recent years, especially for small gun licenses. From 2014 to 2019, their number almost tripled across Germany and climbed to a total of around 664,000, according to statistics from the Federal Ministry of the Interior in response to a request from the MDR. The numbers have been stored centrally in the National Arms Register since 2013.

The situation is similar in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, as inquiries from the MDR with the respective interior ministries show: In Saxony, the number of small gun licenses rose from around 6,700 to more than 20,000 in the same period. In Saxony-Anhalt in the same period from 4,300 to 13,300 and in Thuringia from just under 4,000 to just under 12,400.

This poses problems for the police, says GdP country chief Bachmann. Because in action it is difficult for the officers in a specific situation to differentiate between SRS and real weapons. SRS weapons look deceptively similar to their real relatives, they can usually only be recognized by the PTB seal of the Physikalisch-Technische Prüfanstalt, which is usually attached to the weapon in a rather inconspicuous manner.

At the beginning of the year, the GdP announced that there are probably around 15 million SRS weapons in circulation in Germany. Federal Deputy Chief Jörg Radeck had called the trend worrying and called for a sale to be linked to the small gun license. Because so far buyers only have to be 18 years old, they only need a small gun license if they want to use the SRS gun in public.

Around one million gun owners in Germany

GdP country chief Bachmann says, however, that the higher number of gun licenses has not yet led to more use of SRS guns in public. But not only is the number of small gun licenses increasing, there is also an increase in real guns, albeit only slightly. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, around 5,400,000 weapons and weapon parts are privately owned in Germany. They are distributed among almost a million people, including many shooters and hunters. There are almost 390,000 hunting license holders in Germany alone, and the trend is growing rapidly.

In Saxony, for example, around 157,000 weapons and weapon parts were privately owned at the end of 2019, compared to around 134,000 in 2014. More than 30,000 people in the Free State now have at least one weapon that requires a permit. Of the latter, around 56,000 have been issued.

In Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, the increase is more moderate - however, the interior ministries were unable to provide figures for all years on request. In Saxony-Anhalt, for example, the number of gun owners rose by only around 1,000 between 2015 and 2019, but there is no data on gun ownership cards. Around 129,000 weapons and weapon parts were recently in circulation.