Germany in mourning after school shooting

With Germany's already strict gun laws, some say focus must be on societal issues.

By , Correspondent

In the aftermath of a school shooting in southern Germany that killed at least 16 people and ended in a shootout with police, politicians are calling for tightened gun laws and pointed fingers at the video games and media for promoting what they see as a culture of violence.

Wednesday morning, Tim Kretschmer walked into his former school in Winnenden, a suburb of Stuttgart, and opened fire. It was the nation's worst shooting since another teen gunman killed 16 people in a school in Erfurt in 2002. In between was a 2006 incident in which a masked man attacked a school in Emsdetten, wounding 11 before killing himself.

The 2002 attack led to a variety of preventive measures, says Erich Marks, who heads the German Crime Prevention Congress in Hannover. What's needed now, he says, is a focus on root causes of such violence.

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"We don't need more laws," he argues. "We don't need private security in schools – a school is a school, it isn't a castle – we don't need discussion to have five more years' prison for criminals.

"We should be very clear and open to the problems of the youths," Mr. Marks continues. "We need good schools with more initiatives for sports, for nice things. The whole society has to be more interested in the problems of the young generations."

Attack continued outside school

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the shooting spree as an appalling crime, adding that Wednesday is a day of mourning for the whole of Germany.

The attack unfolded when Mr. Kretschmer, dressed in black commando garb, entered Albertville-Realschule at about 9:30 a.m. and started firing at random, killing nine pupils and three teachers. Police arrived minutes later, but the attacker had already fled.

As he headed toward town, the young man passed a nearby psychiatric clinic, where he shot another person dead. A massive manhunt began, and the gunman reportedly hijacked a car and forced the driver to take him to the town of Wendlingen, about 25 miles away. A police special forces squadron located him there and shot him during a gun battle. Two passersby were also killed, and two police officers wounded.

"He went into the school with a weapon and carried out a bloodbath," said regional police chief Erwin Hetger. "I've never seen anything like this in my life."

How did he obtain the pistol?

In a country with relatively low crime rates and strict gun ownership laws – difficult tests must be passed to obtain a license – questions have arisen about how the shooter got access to a gun, ownership of which is more heavily restricted for young people. Media reports have said that the young man's father legally owned 18 guns, including the Beretta semiautomatic pistol reportedly used in the attack.

At first glance, today's shooting was a repeat of the shootings at the Gutenberg High School in Erfurt.

Since the Erfurt attack, the age for owning a recreational firearm – provided the owner belongs to one of the nation's many shooting clubs – was raised from 18 to 21. Manufacturers of computer games were also required to be more specific on the age groups each game targets. And, says one analyst, there's now more cooperation between the police and schools.

"[A] lot has happened in terms of violence prevention since Erfurt," says Bernd Holthusen, a crime prevention researcher at the Youth Institute in Munich, who helped author the report that led to the tighter regulations.

Mr. Holtausen argues that exposure to violence appears to be a key factor. Regarding Wednesday's shooting, he says that his first worry was about copycat crimes.

"The amount of attention we're giving this shooting can have an enormous effect on others thinking about the same thing," says Holthusen. "People's sensitivity to violence is much, much greater today. An act like today's can encourage somebody else to do the same thing. That is the danger."

For Marks, of the German Crime Prevention Congress, the focus needs to remain on the background of the shooter and what issues might lie behind the shooting.

"After Erfurt, all the initiatives that needed to be taken have been taken," he says. "We have to be careful not to take one event, one issue, one problem, one crime and lead to an entire strategy."

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