Terror in Germany: the 2002 shootings in Erfurt explained

Erfurt 3

Date: 26 April 2002

Location: Gutenberg High School, Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany

Number killed: 17 (including perpetrator)

Number injured: 2

Perpetrator: Robert Steinhäuser, 19 years old, former student at Gutenberg school. Committed suicide at the scene.

Weapons: 9mm Glock 17C semiautomatic pistol; Mossberg 590 Mariner 12-gauge pump-action shotgun (which he did not use)

What happened?: The gunman chose the last day of student written examinations (Abiturprüfungen) to launch his shooting spree[1]. When he entered the school at approximately 11 am, he changed into a black outfit and started moving from classroom to classroom, pausing briefly in each doorway to shoot the teacher. Students testified that the gunman aimed only for the teachers and administrators, although two students were killed by shots fired through a locked door. Five minutes after the shooting began, police arrived outside the school. Soon after, the gunman aimed from a window and shot a police officer in the head.

One of Steinhäuser’s teachers confronted him verbally, then pushed him into a room and locked the door. Shortly later, police heard a gunshot from the room – the sound of the gunman turning the gun on himself. 71 rounds were fired throughout the whole series of shootings.

Contrary to popular belief, the former student was not legally entitled to own the guns he used in the shooting. Due to an invalid registration, his firearm licence was obtained illegally[2]. Local authorities failed to notice this during the acquisition of the licence and later during the purchases of two firearms[3]

Erfurt 6

Legal Context: According to the Federal Weapons Act of 1976, the minimum age for gun ownership in Germany was 18 or older[4]. Prospective gun owners were required to pass a personal aptitude test examining ‘trustworthiness, knowledge, and accuracy’ and to prove necessity, which included hunting and membership at shooting clubs[5]. Pursuant to the legislation, there were three separate categories of licences: one for collectors or dealers, one for non-assault weapons, and one for single-shot short and long firearms.

Legislative Change: Before the massacre, conservatives heavily protested the need for tougher gun control legislation stating that it leads to unnecessary bureaucracy harming those who own guns legally, instead of focusing on solutions targeting the issue of illegal gun ownership. However, views softened in the wake of the incident.

By coincidence, the German parliament had passed new legislation tightening gun controls the Friday after the shooting. However, after the shooting, lawmakers decided to impose stricter regulations than originally planned[6]. Faced with mounting public pressure, the new law was subsequently amended in October 2002. The Weapons Act (Waffengesetz – WaffG) as amended by the Act of Reform German Weapons Law (Gesetz zur Neuregelung des Waffenrechts-WaffRNeuRegG) of 11 October 2002, came into effect on 1 April 2003[7]. Moreover, the General Ordinance on the Weapons Act (Allgemeine Waffengesetz-Verordnung –AwaffV) of 27 October 2003, came into effect on 1 December 2003[8].

The new regulation introduced several important amendments. It increased the minimum age at which athletes and hunters can acquire powerful weapons to 21[9]. In addition, it required a psychological attestation of the applicant’s mental fitness, if younger than 25 years[10]. The law imposed a restriction on large-calibre weapons to persons 21 years of age or older[11] and prohibited pump-action shotguns[12]. The new rules required official licensing of shooting sports clubs[13] and forbade throwing stars and particularly dangerous knives (e.g. switchblades)[14].

In order to limit the availability of firearms to unauthorised persons, the new law enhanced provisions governing the storage of firearms[15]. It also required that weapons dealers report the sale of weapons within two weeks of their purchase[16]. Non-lethal weapons and signalling devices such as flare guns were permitted without authorisation, but since 1 April 2003 a ‘minor firearms certificate’ (Kleiner Waffenschein) has been required to carry such guns in public[17].

[1] Carter, G. L. (2012) Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law. ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara. p. 266.
[2] Kronenberg, W. (2002) Zeiten der Angst: Erfurt – Seine Folgen und Wirkungen. DWJ: Schwäbisch-Hall.
[3] Kronenberg, W. (2002) Zeiten der Angst: Erfurt – Seine Folgen und Wirkungen. DWJ: Schwäbisch-Hall.
[4] Weapon Act of 8 March 1976 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 432; Federal Law Gazette III p. 7133-3) §30, §33.
[5] Weapon Act 1976, §9, §8, §32.
[6] Gade, G. D. (2008) Basiswissen Waffenrecht. W. Kohlhammer: Stuttgart. p. 1.
[7] Weapons Act 2002
[8] General Ordinance on the Weapons Act of 27 October 2003 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 2123), amended by Article 2 (63) of the Act of 22 December 2011 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 3044) § 4.

[9] Weapons Act 2002, § 14 (1).
[10] General Ordinance on the Weapons Act of 27 October 2003, § 4.
[11] Weapons Act 2002, § 14.
[12] Weapons Act 2002, Annex 2 to Section 2 (2) through (4), Part 1.
[13] Weapons Act 2002, § 15.
[14] Weapons Act 2002, §42(a).
[15] Weapons Act 2002, cf. § 36.
[16] Weapons Act 2002, cf. § 34.
[17] Weapons Act 2002, § 4 Section 1, No. 3-5.

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Terror in The City: San Francisco ’93 massacre explained

101 California 3

Date: 1 July 1993

Location: Law offices of Pettit & Martin and neighbouring offices, 101 California Street, San Francisco, California

Number killed: 9 (including perpetrator)

Number injured: 6

Perpetrator: Gian Luigi Ferri, 55 years old, real estate speculator. Committed suicide at the scene.

Weapon: Two Intratec TEC-DC9; Norinco .45-caliber M1911 pistol.

What happened: At approximately 3 p.m. the gunman entered the law offices of Pettit & Martin at 101 California Street in San Francisco’s financial district. He wore earplugs and carried a TEC-DC9 pistol equipped with high-capacity magazines containing forty to fifty rounds of 9mm ammunition strapped across his chest. He also carried a handgun, for which he had ‘Black Talon’ hollow-point bullets.

He started shooting through the windows of a conference room, killing two lawyers, a witness, and a court reporter, before moving to other floors. Within minutes, the gunman had shot and killed eight people. Eventually, police cornered him in a stairwell where he committed suicide. Throughout the shooting spree, he fired between 75 and 100 rounds.

The semi-automatic firearms used by gunman were manufactured in Florida and sold in Nevada. The gunman purchased his firearms at a pawnshop and at a gun show in Nevada using an invalid Nevada license and a fake address. Under California state law, the semi-automatic Intractec TEC-DC9 model was specifically named as a banned assault weapon.

101 California

Legal Context: The law lists assault weapons as defined by Penal Code Section 30520, which includes a list of specific banned firearms, including the Intratec TEC-9 model used by the gunman. In addition, some weapons were banned due to their characteristics. For example a semi-automatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine; a magazine that accepts more than 10 rounds; a centrefire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches, or any shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine.

Legislative Change: The 101 California Street shooting  marked a significant turning point in the gun control movement. San Francisco Assistant Police Chief Earl Sanders, stated that, “the weapons Ferri had – Tec-9s – turned a 55-year-old, pudgy, out-of-shape little man into a killing machine.” Luis Tolley, Director of State Legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence stated that in the aftermath of the shooting, “a tenure of real activism and change” took place.

Increased national public awareness sparked real legislative change when California Senator Dianne Feinstein drew up the Federal Assault Weapons Ban the following year, which was modelled on California’s ban. While the state legislation in California was widely regarded as a ‘quick fix’ after the Stockton school massacre without the substance to force real change, the Federal Assault Weapon ban was seen as a piece of historic gun reform legislation.  President Bill Clinton signed the bill on 13 September 1994.

Enacted under Title XI as a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Federal Assault Weapon Ban prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of nineteen listed semiautomatic assault weapons and approximately 200 firearms covered by the law’s generic definition of ‘assault weapon’[1].  Legally speaking, firearms are defined as ‘assault weapons’ if they possess certain features. Among these characteristics are a compact design, a barrel of less than 20 inches, a pistol grip, a folding or telescoping grip, and the ability to receive large-capacity ammunition magazines[2]. Congress agreed that these characteristics differentiated a military-style from civilian-style weapons, which could be used in hunting and target shooting, as well as in self-defence. The ban was passed for an initial period of ten years, but in 2004 Congress failed to renew it and the law expired.

California, at the state level, repealed a statute that had given gun manufacturers immunity against lawsuits after an attempt by some relatives of the victims to hold the companies that manufactured the pistol TEC-DC9, that the gunman used in the shooting, liable for negligence in Merrill v. Navegar.

[1] Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Sec. 110102 (a) (v) (1) (30) (B) (C) (D).
[2] Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Sec. 110102 (b) (30) (B) (C) (D).

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Russia, despite high murder rate, relaxes its gun laws.

Vladimir Putin, echoing Al Capone, this week told a meeting of the Russia United People’s Front: “You can get a lot more done with politeness and a weapon than with politeness alone.”

Russia, with the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has gone and relaxed its gun ownership laws.

Previously, Russians could own firearms for hunting or target practice. Now, under new laws, they will be allowed to have them for self-defence too.

Russia’s murder rate has fallen since the 1990s, when organised crime was at its height but there are still plenty of murders there.

In the most recent year for which full and reliable statistics are available, 2009, there were 21,603 murders in Russia. This gives it one of the world’s highest murder rates, according to a 2011 UN report. In the same year the US, which has a population almost twice as large, had 13,636 homicides.

Currently, Russians own 13 million forearms, in comparison with the 310 million owned in the US. Under the new laws, gun licenses in the country will still have to be renewed every five years, and applicants will be required to undergo background checks and take a safety course.

It will be interesting to see how many murders Russia sees once the new laws come into effect and guns become more ubiquitous.

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Scotland’s tragedy: the Dunblane massacre explained

Dunblane shooting

Date: 13 March 1996

Location: Dunblane Primary School, Dunblane, Scotland

Number killed: 18 (including perpetrator)

Number injured: 17

Perpetrator: Thomas Hamilton, 43. Hamilton was known to Central Scotland Police before the shooting. He had been forced to resign from the Scout’s Association in 1993 following investigations by the police into summer camps he had run for young boys. It transpired after the shooting that the police were generally uneasy about him, but that this was not reason enough to refuse the repeated renewal of his firearm certificate. A tiny proportion of certificate applications and renewals were refused at that time.

Weapons: Hamilton had with him two semi-automatic 9mm pistols, two .357 revolvers and 743 rounds of ammunition. He had been in possession of a firearms certificate since 1977, citing his reason for requiring firearms as target shooting at local clubs and ranges, as required by the 1988 Act[1]. His licence had been amended and renewed several times over the years in order to allow him to purchase more guns and larger amounts of ammunition. In 1989 he surrendered a rifle that became illegal after the passing of the 1988 Act. All of his weapons were acquired and held completely legally[2].

What happened: The shooter walked into Dunblane primary school at 9.30am on the morning of the shooting. A class of five and six year old children and three teachers were in the school gym, about to begin a lesson. He entered the gym and began firing in rapid succession, killing one teacher instantly and hitting the other two. The two injured teachers stumbled into a storage area, taking some of the children with them. The shooter remained in the gym, firing dozens of shots at the children. He then walked in a semi-circle, shooting at point-blank range those who had been injured or lay terrified on the floor.

The shooter left the gym, firing at children and staff who he spotted through windows and doorways. He shot into a mobile classroom while a teacher and her class hid under tables – all survived without injury. He then re-entered the gym, where one teacher and 15 children lay dead, with a total of 58 gunshot wounds. The perpetrator killed himself with the revolver[3].

Law and wider context at the time: The legislation passed after the Hungerford massacre of 1987 focused on the banning of semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, the banning of armour piercing ammunition, and the tightening of controls on shotguns. At the time of Dunblane, revolvers and semi-automatic pistols were still legal with a firearms licence, as were single-shot shotguns and rifles. The right to possess firearms is not guaranteed by UK law.

Reaction: The tragedy at Dunblane had serious and wide-reaching implications. Public opinion had an enormous impact on the legislative changes that occurred as a result of the massacre. The Snowdrop Campaign was founded by families and friends of those affected by the tragedy in Dunblane, and gained 750,000 signatures to a petition for a ban on private gun ownership in six weeks. The campaign stopped short of calling for a total ban on all guns, but rather called that guns for recreational use be held securely at authorised clubs, and all private ownership of handguns be banned[4].

The combination of the public pressure, driven by the Snowdrop Campaign, with the anticipation of the findings of an official Inquiry into Dunblane by Lord Cullen, caused a near-political crisis for the Conservative government. The gun lobby, which had won the concession of the establishment of the Firearms Consultative Committee after Hungerford, now looked out of touch and unsympathetic. The Labour party meanwhile, supported the Snowdrop Campaign in calling for a total ban on handguns[5]. With only months until a general election, the government had no choice but to pass legislation that prohibited all handguns above .22 calibre[6].

Due to public and political pressure, the government legislated far beyond the recommendations of the Cullen report. Although the report concluded that the attack could not have been predicted, it raised serious questions about Hamilton’s firearms licence, which in Cullen’s opinion should have been revoked in light of what the police knew about him.[7]

The report praised the response of the local police force to an unprecedented and entirely unpredictable tragedy. Most serious was the investigation into Hamilton’s firearms licence. As a result, there was a review of the way in which firearms licences were approved and renewed.

Law and wider context after: The legislation passed after Dunblane resulted in the UK adopting some of the strictest gun laws in the world. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 banned all handguns above .22 calibre, followed by the Firearms (Amendment) (No 2) Act 1997, passed by the subsequent Labour government, which extended the ban to all handguns regardless of calibre[8]. At the time, Shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw commented that the changes should have been made nine years previously, after the Hungerford massacre.


The Select Committee on Home Affairs reported in 2000 that legislation passed after the tragedies in Hungerford and Dunblane was designed to respond to the failures in firearms controls. It found no reason to extend the controls further at that time[9].

[1] Cullen report.
[2] Ibid.
[3] The Hon Lord Cullen, “The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996”, prepared 16 October 1996.
[4] Ibid., para. 7.15.
[5] Squires, 2000.
[6] Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997
[7] The Hon Lord Cullen, “The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996”, prepared 16 October 1996, Para 6.64.
[8] Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997.
[9] Select Committee on Home Affairs, 2000.

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The Devil’s Trade: guns and violence in El Salvador

abd-rodrigoThis is a report I did for Action on Armed Violence.

Gun violence is a part of everyday life in El Salvador. In a country that is home to two of the most powerful and violent criminal gangs in the world – the Calle 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) – and where guns are readily available, it is of no surprise that the Central American country experiences some of the world’s highest homicide rates year after year.

The homicide rate in El Salvador in 2009 was 222 per cent more than the average rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. An end to the bloodshed is nowhere in sight.

The Devil’s Trade: Guns and Violence in El Salvador, a new report by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), investigates the ways in which violent groups arm and equip themselves. It finds that the number of illegal guns in the country far exceeds estimates, and that relatively few guns are removed from circulation.

The report also examines El Salvador’s history of violence. The country endured a particularly brutal civil war in the 1980s and 90s, where it is estimated that 75,000 people were killed and many more subjected to severe violations of human rights. After the conflict, the government failed to destroy stockpiles it had built up during the war, including the arms that it had confiscated from guerrillas.

00010840_mediumToday, weapons are being diverted from military stockpiles. Sources, both from the government and gangs, described to AOAV how easy it is to access the weapons either directly or indirectly through corrupt military personnel. There is even less control over the arms caches held by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the civil war era.

Other sources of weapons include the black market and arms trafficked through the uncontrolled north-eastern border with Honduras.

AOAV also recognises that there is a lack of centralised and reliable data on firearms in El Salvador. This means it is difficult to estimate the number of illicit guns in the country as well as the number of guns stockpiled, but the experts we spoke to were clear: the country is awash with guns.

The Devil’s Trade concludes that powerful parties with financial interests in the gun trade have crushed attempts to reform firearms law, and that corruption in gun law enforcement is rampant. Those interviewed during AOAV’s investigation indicated that firearm sellers have strong links to the military, and this cosy relationship allows gun stores to selectively enforce firearms law.

By examining how guns end up in the hands of criminals, this report brings us closer to understanding the driving forces behind the daily horrors of shootings and murders that plague El Salvador.

devil's trade

Report by: Jacob Parakilas and Iain Overton
With thanks to: Jenna Corderoy, Alexander Renderos, Steven Smith
Cover Illustration and Photos: Gangland guns in El Salvador by Adam Hinton
Design: Matt Bellamy

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