Lax laws come under scrutiny
Mass shootings are not alien to Germany. In 2002, a 19-year-old student shot and killed 16 people — 13 faculty members, two students and a police officer — at a school from which he had been expelled; he then killed himself. In 2009, a 17-year-old former student in Winnenden killed 15 people during a shooting spree at his old school and nearby car dealership.
The Newtown massacre brought back painful memories of the tragedies, which have also remained in the news following reports that the father of Winnenden killer Tim Kretschmer is suing a mental health clinic for nearly $12 million for failing to recognize the danger posed by his son. Kretschmer’s father is facing nearly $24 million in damages in connection with the shooting spree.
As a result of the shootings, firearms laws have become increasingly strict in Germany and now include mandatory medical or psychological evaluations for those under 25 who wish to own gun.
There are 5.5 million privately owned firearms in Germany owned by 1.4 million registered owners according to figures released by the German Firearms Register this month.
The massacres in Germany also led to public debates on the possible dangers of videogames, with minors’ access to violent vidgames now strictly limited. Both gunmen were avid players of such first-person shooter games as “Counter-Strike.”
Some states have also introduced more extensive psychological services in schools to help prevent potential violence by students.
People in Germany and Austria reacted with shock and sadness to the Newtown massacre, but also with incredulity at what they see as America’s seemingly insane and deadly obsession with firearms and the lack of strict gun laws in the country, which most here blame for the tragedy.
Reflecting general public opinion, media outlets in Germany and Austria have largely focused on the lax gun laws and easy accessibility to firearms in the U.S. as the main cause of yet another in a long list of similar tragedies that seem particularly endemic to American society.
Zeit Online, the online service of newspaper Die Zeit, wrote: “A village experiences its worst nightmare. Like Littleton, Colo., following the Columbine massacre, Newtown, Conn., will never again be a pleasant town. Like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary will never again be just a school, but forever a symbol of senseless violence, the American craze for weapons and a tragedy that is difficult to put into words.”
News weekly Focus added: “One thing is certain: In order for such madness to take place, several factors have to likely come together: An ill psyche, access to weapons, a major personal crisis.”
The effect of violent entertainment has not been overlooked by news publications.
Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung cited reports that suspect Adam Lanza was a fervent player of the first-person-shooter vidgame “Call of Duty,” writing, “There are psychological studies that show a connection between the significant increase of deadly shots to the head in violent crime and the use of computer games that reward the targeted killing of an opponent by a shot to the head.”
However, the paper points out that despite the criticism, objective discussions regarding the role of videogames “usually do not materialize.” While fellow Austrian daily Der Standard also noted the possible role of videogames, it argued that in fact the majority of international media are focusing not on the “killer videogame debate,” but rather on the gun laws in the U.S.
Despite loud condemnation in Europe of America’s obsession with guns, Austria, Italy and Germany are the second, third and fourth leading exporters of firearms to the U.S. (behind No. 1 firearms exporter Brazil).