Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, but certain aspects of gun ownership are growing in popularity. Licenses to carry “small arms,” or weapons that only fire irritant gas or blank cartridges, are increasing, even if overall weapons demand is slowly levelling off.
To carry these weapons in public, Germans are required to hold a small arms license, or Kleinen Waffenschein. The number of these licenses rose again in 2019, more than doubling within the last five years.
These weapons, however, can’t cause any injuries unless fired from close range. Cologne police union chairman has previously said the increase is due to “a rising feeling of insecurity”, but the guns are also used for different purposes, such as setting off fireworks.
At the end 2019, a total of 664,706 certificates were registered in the National Arms Register. This is according to data the Federal Ministry of the Interior released to DPA on request. The trend shows a clear upward trajectory. At the end of 2015, around 286,000 small arms licenses were listed in the National Arms Register. In 2016, there were 470,000; In 2017, 558,000; And, at the end of 2018, 611,000.
When are small weapons used?
Germans over 18 are eligible to apply for a small weapons license, which include non-lethal weapons that create warning signals or release irritant chemicals. The licenses are issued by police or other local authorities. Before applicants are approved, personal background checks are conducted, looking for things like past criminal behaviour.
Even the discharge of the weapons is only approved at shooting ranges, or within narrowly-defined justifiable situations, such as necessary self-defense – which can then be subject to court review in cases of doubt. And weapons are prohibited at public gatherings like festivals, protests or movie premiers, regardless of a valid license.
But even with these regulations, police agencies warn the carrying of non-lethal weapons may cause danger for the gun owners as well as the general public, mainly because the weapons can look deceptively real.