Shooting in Munich

Attacker 'got his pistol illegally'

People mourn in front of candles and flowers on July 24 near the Olympia Einkaufszentrum shopping centre in Munich, southern Germany.
People mourn in front of candles and flowers on July 24 near the Olympia Einkaufszentrum shopping centre in Munich, southern Germany.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN • Germany has some of the world's strictest gun laws. But that did not stop the Munich attacker from carrying out his shooting spree.

The assailant most likely obtained his pistol illegally and did not have a licence, German police officials said. That development could have worrisome implications for a country that has already exhausted most legal means to prevent such shooting sprees.

"Germany has a good system of legal gun ownership, but illegal firearms pose a big problem," said Mr Nils Duquet, a weapons expert in Belgium who works for the Flemish Peace Institute. According to him, there are millions of illegal weapons in Europe but it is impossible to know exactly how many.

Following two horrifying school shootings in 2002 and 2009, German lawmakers passed stricter gun legislation that made it harder to legally obtain weapons. Buyers younger than 25 must now pass a psychological exam before being able to acquire firearms in Germany. Shooting incidents dropped significantly as a consequence.

Theoretically, those measures might also have stopped the 18-year-old Munich attacker from being able to buy a gun legally. Officials believe he could have been depressed, and a video - which police have said appears authentic - shows him saying he had gone through "inpatient treatment".

Most mass shootings in Europe that are not associated with international terror groups have been carried out with legally obtained weapons. "The fact that he used an illicit weapon does not imply that he did not also search for ways to obtain one legally, at first," Mr Duquet said.

Concerns over the illegal-weapons trade are not confined to Germany. Among other factors, the borderless Schengen area within the European Union and Europe's proximity to current or former war zones have facilitated illegal-weapons transports into the continent.

An increasing number of terrorist attacks over the past two years have been carried out with illegal firearms from Eastern Europe.

The Balkans pose a particular risk as a source, with millions of firearms used during the region's wars still believed to be in circulation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Attacker 'got his pistol illegally''. Print Edition | Subscribe