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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
How can we ensure safety in schools?
How can we ensure safety in schools?
Seventeen people have died in a shooting at a German school.

A 19-year-old expelled pupil killed fourteen teachers, a policewoman and two female pupils before turning the gun on himself.

This was the worst school massacre in Europe since the 1996 shooting in Dunblane, Scotland which also left eighteen people dead.

Following the Dunblane shooting, the UK Government introduced laws banning handguns, and in just two years over 160,000 weapons have been surrendered.

American researchers who analysed the nature of such incidents say shootings are not "impulsive" actions and are usually thoroughly prepared.

They say police can act before plans for violence escalate into action by checking for "advance warning" from students who might be planning attacks.

What measures should be taken to ensure safety in schools? Should Germany tighten its gun control laws?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

You will rather see all German pupils in bullet-proof shirts than one guard with a gun

Alexander Schmitz, NRW, Germany
My deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the massacre at the Gutenberg Gymnasium. As a German I have to say that it is unthinkable to have metal detectors or even armed guards at a school in Germany. I hope I'll never see anything like that at German schools. You will rather see all German pupils in bullet-proof shirts than one guard with a gun. You cannot deter a madman who runs amok by guns or any other precautions. Only policemen and soldiers should be allowed to carry guns. Nobody else. Guns are made for only one purpose: to kill!
Alexander Schmitz, NRW, Germany

I think that guns should be legal but licensing laws should be extremely strict.
Victoria Buswell, England

All civilians should be banned from using guns. The only people who should be permitted to carry guns are licensed security firms and members of the National security forces (policemen, army, etc).
Alex, The Netherlands

What we see here is indicative of a Western culture. We are taught from day one that there are winners and losers. The issue is how we treat the losers. In western society it seems that we can "abuse" and denigrate those people who are less fortunate or different, or not quite as confident etc as ourselves. This lack of compassion from kids, parents, politicians, work colleagues etc. leads to the disenfranchised striking back like this. It is the same in the work place. What we need is not less guns or more guns but a change in society that reflects a more relaxed and compassionate way of thinking. Not the consumer driven society that Regan, Thatcher, Bush and Blair advocate.
Vish, UK

I think that guns at school are necessary for self-defence
Xela, USA

Americans that suggest arming law-abiding citizens need to remember that the individual that caused this mayhem was law-abiding, right up to the point he massacred his classmates. He went to a gun club and had a gun licence. Do Americans have a way to see into the future that I don't know about? The actions of this individual prove that guns are for people with poor self esteem. Anyone that wants a gun should be immediately denied access to them.
Oliver Richardson, UK

I admit I looked a bit mistrustfully at other pupils sitting around me in the bus

Anonymous, Germany
Like all Germans I am also very shocked by this terrible massacre. And after this shock I have asked myself why could this happen and whether a similar thing could happen at my school. I admit I looked a bit mistrustfully at other pupils sitting around me in the bus. But this is surely the way for panicking. The only way is to change society and to stop judge people because of their achievements.
Anonymous, Germany

Germany has to forbid guns. We do not need them. That is the only way to give shootings no chance!
Alicia, Germany

My condolences to the many victims of this horrific tragedy. However, SJ of Canada is absolutely correct. This issue is not only about gun control. A friend of mine who has ADD and recently completed his engineering degree in the US, once told me, "If I had lived in Germany, I'd be boxing shoes right now". Another German friend of mine is completing her PHd. here after being told as a youngster in Germany that "workers" children couldn't go to university. Germany has a no-second-chance selection process for university. You don't make the exams at the right time, you're out. Period. This student lost hope. After being handed his hat, he probably felt that he had nothing left to lose.
B Chatters, USA

A true act of Evil. Some people were born to be villains. In any given age, there are those who will fall into darkness. The technology and cultures change with time, the Niches we see filled are constant.
The Creepercosmosis, USA

I work at a High School in California, and I've seen firsthand that nothing has changed aside from politicians creating laws that are ineffective. What is evidence of an unhinged mind? Doing the same unsuccessful thing over and over hoping for a different outcome? Passing ever more gun laws have been proven to have no effect on school crime for they don't address a core reality. What did Columbine, Dunblane and the German school incident have in common? They all had lousy school security, all were an open door for criminals. Columbine had a lone police officer on campus, but these gestures are a useless (and expensive) deterrent, more for show.
Stephen, USA

To suggest a ban of firearms is not only irrational but also an invitation to the black market to grow. Illegal firearms are used in over 99.98% of gun-related crime in this country, and banning them deprives large numbers of law-abiding citizens of their sport. We don't see cricket/golf/fencing banned and murder can easily be committed with these weapons. Tight control of who can own firearms is to be welcomed but the risk of these crimes will always be inherent where society breeds discontent and isolation.
Stephen Black, UK

I have fired .22 and .303 rifles, and semi-automatic pistols, without once feeling the urge to kill anybody

Guy Chapman, UK
It's strange how the sport of shooting is suddenly the province of misfits, losers and madmen. When I was at school we had our own range and were taught to shoot. I have fired .22 and .303 rifles, and semi-automatic pistols, without once feeling the urge to kill anybody. Dealing with these problems through gun control is like dealing with drink-driving by banning cars. The American view that a society awash with guns is not likely in itself to produce gun-related crime is clearly fatuous, but Europe is not awash with guns, firearms crime is rare, and crime committed with licensed firearms is rarer still. Leave the gun laws alone and concentrate on reducing social exclusion.
Guy Chapman, UK

Is there a way to make a school a really safe place? I'm a teacher at a German school, and yes, I'm afraid of what was going on in Erfurt on Friday happening again some day. In my opinion it's the way of treating pupils and of communicating with them and their parents, which could lead to understanding each other, even when there are problematic situations. Personally I don't think that being expelled from school was the only reason for that massacre!
Anke, Germany

There is nothing that we personally can do about school violence. Blaming it on heavy metal and violent video games does not help because then all we are doing is providing a scapegoat. We cannot blame it on the parents because, as a teenager, I find it is easy to just ignore my parents, and they do not know everything about me or if I am "troubled" or not.
Petra Hendrickson, USA

Guns are designed for one thing only, and it is not protection. It is to harm and to kill. My mum was Gwen Mayor, the teacher killed in the Dunblane massacre. I think it is incredibly sad how complacent society has become. People think it will never happen to them. It happened to me, my family and my community. If there were no guns we wouldn't be thinking of using them for protection.
Debbie Mayor, Scotland

Being a teacher in Germany of English and German myself I would like to say only one thing to those who suggest to hand out guns to teachers: Keep your mouth shut! We just had a terrible shootout, and we do not any more!
Dirk Schulze, Germany

I am so shocked and still can't believe that something like that could happen here in Germany

Cecilia Pape, Germany
I am so shocked and still can't believe that something like that could happen here in Germany. The Germans always thought that this was only an American problem. I know that this will happen more times because there are many people who are ready to use violence. Tomorrow I will discuss at school with my friends. At school we talked about the gun laws in America many times and that it is terrible that everyone can have a gun. I think that we all will be afraid because we know now that this can happen at every school at every place at every time.
Cecilia Pape, Germany

'Other fellow students could only point to his love of heavy metal music and a taste for violent video games as possible indications of darker traits behind a normal exterior' The issue is not about guns. It's about 'violence in, violence out (VIVO)'. Society should protect kids from the merchants of violence as entertainment.
Nuesiri Emmanuel, UK

It all goes down to the parents. Let's take a look at the two Columbine shooters and the recent DeAnza guy...they both built arsenals of amazing sizes, and they did it without anyone knowing, and without their parents finding out. I enjoy my privacy at home, but that privacy does have limits. If my door were to be padlocked and I would come home with large bags of stuff at odd hours and lug them into my room...well, wouldn't you be suspicious?
Eric, USA

Ultimately, if an individual wishes to harm another seriously enough, they will find a way

John, England
A lot of people seem to be posting "ban guns" threads. A family friend was in the "Admiral Duncan" pub when it was bombed, using home made explosive produce from over-the-counter ingredients. What is to stop someone leaving a similar device on a crowded school bus? Ultimately, if an individual wishes to harm another seriously enough, they will find a way. While tragedies such as this are getting publicity, please consider the hidden tragedy in our midst. Every week, a child dies of abuse or neglect in their own home.
John, England

To confine this debate to gun control is missing the big picture. Weapons have been around for a long time yet juvenile massacres seem to be a recent development. Disgruntled children are not a new thing either. What is recent however, is the culture of extreme violence, as conveyed but not necessarily caused by movies, TV series and, of course, computer games. Is the age of the teenage killing spree not connected to the age of virtual death match?
Thomas Jacob, Germany

As long as society (the law) forces people (kids) to do something they do not wish to do (go to school), they will retaliate. If school were not compulsory, this would not be... a talking point.
Henry Penninkilampi, Australia

Yes, gun control laws should be tightened, but what needs to be revised is the moral and ethical fibre of society that breeds and sensationalises such behaviour. Education and role models must change and the sanctity of human lives imbued. This will lessen, but not eliminate such occurrences because human beings are a violent lot and civilisation is but skin deep.
Janos, Canada

Constant exposure to violent imagery leads to vicious fantasies

Prakash Chandra, India
Tightening gun control aside, we should address that terrible cancer of modern society - desensitisation. Constant exposure to violent imagery through infantile movies and books lead to vicious fantasies. By desensitisation, we remove the psychological barriers to these, and make their enactment likely.
Prakash Chandra, India

I am a teacher in America and I know how long-range these appalling acts are. In the US, social scientists are trying to discover what makes students commit these crimes and they are finding most have been teenagers who had been desperately unhappy for long periods of time, had few friends, kept to themselves, and who also were bullied and picked on by other kids. It's also interesting to note that these kids left behind clues of one kind or another and it's important for parents, teachers, guidance counsellors, and friends to watch for these clues and report kids at risk. It may mean the difference of life and death for so many in this difficult day and age.
Jane Rubino, US

What did they expect?

SJ, Canada
Personal frustration as the root cause? I must disagree. Why not blame the ruthless society? In the West we make losers out of masses of our citizens and call it social order. A tribal society avoids outcasting a member; does our "civil" society, too, cherish each member? No. Many are considered human garbage. In this tragic case, German educators with titles branded the young man, at age 18, a loser for life. The expelled-student-turned-mass-murderer was denied his right to write exams to qualify to attend university. That's worse than a jail sentence! What did they expect?
SJ, Canada

If you want 100% safety then have metal detectors and armed guards at entrances. This however raises questions of expense, inconvenience and students living in a climate of fear. Germany doesn't need to tighten gun control laws. Laws restrain citizens, not criminals. Those who are ready to commit murder are hardly likely to balk at stealing firearms. Or manufacturing other lethal devices.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand

By over-legislating, you stoke the black market

Chris B, England
Tightening firearms control laws introduces a curious paradox. By over-legislating, you stoke the black market and make it more difficult to keep track of who is buying firearms. The illicit drugs market is a good example of this effect. Ultimately, it's the person who pulls the trigger who is dangerous rather than the gun itself. And as a gun without ammunition is an impotent lump of metal, an alternative route might be to place very tight controls on the sale of ammunition, which is far more difficult for an amateur to manufacture from scratch than the weapon which fires it.
Chris B, England

Arm teachers? (Tom Curran) Here in the UK, the police are not even armed and when some special policemen are armed and use it to shoot someone, they are fired and charged with murder. Teachers with guns? They can't even use a water pistol. They don't have the intelligence. The only way to stop this thing happening in schools is not to allow pupils with unacceptable social behaviour in schools. Full stop. It is unfair to pupils who want to learn. But the do-gooders will say it is unfair to those bad pupils. No one can win.
Kevin, UK

To Tom Curran, USA: Good idea! Maybe we in Europe should flood ourselves with cheap, legal handguns like the USA and make school massacres a regular occurrence like the USA
John G, London, UK

How do countries protect themselves from others who build atomic bombs? They also build them, don't they? This is called a deterrent. Guess what? The same idea works with small arms. If the teachers were armed, this killer could have been stopped before he did so much damage.
Tom Curran, US

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrible tragedy. If a motivated individual wants to commit violent acts of any sort, little can truly stop them, but we can deter them. Some of these methods are in place in US schools. Everything from metal detectors to dedicated police officers being present during school hours. Nothing can totally eliminate these occurrences, but we can make it harder for those who may be contemplating it.
Christopher Magee, US

Look at all society has to offer kids today: a steady supply of hate-filled music and television. Put a stop to that and you will see violence diminish. For those that would like to blame guns, do a little research and see how many times this sort of thing happened fifty years ago. Guns were available then as well. Look at what's changed; we let people spew what they want from television and radio. Control that and not guns.
Mike, US

When I was in school a number of teachers always carried guns

George Mealor, US
Europe needs to get off their anti-gun kick. When I was in school a number of teachers always carried guns (discreetly of course) and no-one would have considered walking in to shoot students or teachers as you didn't know who had a gun. If I wanted to stage a mass shooting the place to go in these times would be a school where the teachers are forbidden to carry weapons and there's only one - or no security guard.
George Mealor, US

I cannot believe some of the comments here suggesting gun laws be relaxed, making it easier for the average Joe to arm themselves (for protection of course). More guns in circulation just makes it easier for criminals to arm themselves, not to mention making criminals out of those who think they can get away with something because they own a gun. The only solution is a total ban of firearms. Why do the public need them anyway? The police are here to protect us and even they don't need guns in the UK. The argument of protection is a pretty flimsy one - seems more like the last cry of those who simply enjoy weapons. Let's not go down the slippery slope of a gun in everyone's pocket, and armed guards in schools - would that make you feel safer? I know I wouldn't.
Simon, UK/Finland

No guns: no shooting.
Nigel Rees, Briton in US

I was in junior high school when the Columbine attack was occuring and I remember every detail vividly. From this experience, I have concluded that the only thing that can stop school shootings is the parents of the kids. They need to be better influences on their kids and have more control. Gun laws won't stop anything: drugs are illegal but somehow they never stop drug use. Ultimately, the parents are the only ones who can prevent these tragedies.
Julia, Littleton, CO, US

To Andrew Smith in Scotland and all the others proposing banning guns: wake up. Kids won't be bringing guns to school protect themselves. That idea is childish at best. Furthermore, I contend that most of the viewpoints on this site have been pushing the gun control agenda. Those of us who know better have moved to counter your baseless arguments. Look at your own country where guns are illegal. Crime is on the rise because those who follow the law don't have guns while those who already have guns are criminals anyway. Look at Australia. Guns are illegal there, crime shot through the roof.
Ryan Corcoran, Austin, TX, USA

Predictably a number of our American friends use this tragedy to push their anti-gun control agenda. Do you really want to live in a world where schoolchildren are armed for protection? Do you?
Andrew Smith, Scotland

Taking guns out of the hands of innocents hasn't worked here, it won't work in Germany

Phil, UK
As another poster has already pointed out it's impossible to guarantee children's safety in school in the same way it's impossible to guarantee their safety on the roads or on a school trip. We also have to consider what kind of adults children who have been brought up in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia will grow up to be. Taking guns out of the hands of innocents clearly isn't the answer, it hasn't worked here, it won't work in Germany, the only defence is to identify and treat those likely to carry out violent crime early on.
Phil, UK

My deepest condolences to those in Germany. Guards armed with automatic rifles would be a start, for I don't think any disgruntled child would be insane enough to attempt to attack a school that's guarded by 30 people with AK47s.
Wade, USA

Tightening gun control laws is just a symbolic and simplistic solution to please those social activists. The subtle part of the problem is that children are bombarded with news of violence and terrorism around the world.
Wing, Hong Kong

My deepest sorrow and tears to those who've directly lost their closest friends and loved ones. We cannot stand cold and far from these horrible mssacres. We should take care of our EU. Immediately. Before it is too late.
Luis Madureira, Portugal

Get rid of all guns including those used for hunting.
Mike McTaggart, USA

No measure can ensure safety

Professor Mukhtar Ai Naqvi, USA
Violent incidents in the schools may be checked if there are security arrangements in educational institutions, but no measure can ensure safety. Violence in the schools is a manifestation of social and psychological phenomena and tightening of gun laws may not be effective.
Professor Mukhtar Ai Naqvi, USA

The sad fact is that we cannot ensure safety in schools, or anywhere else for that matter. If a disturbed person is determined to get hold of a gun and use it to kill people they can do it in Germany, the US or Scotland. It doesn't seem to matter how strict gun laws are.
Jonathan Michaud, Brit in New York

To my fellow Americans who have expressed concern: the school has a web site. I have sent an e-mail (in English, unfortunately as I do not speak German), relaying my condolences. At the risk of sounding like goody-two-shoes, I would suggest you do the same. The German people have had a hard couple of months and a little support might help these kids.
Jennifer Ethington, USA

The only help for this condition is to promote the importance of relationships and experience

Anthony Stephenson, Texas, USA
To kill other humans for no reason but personal frustration and anger indicates a profound sense of separation between the self and the world. The only help for this condition is to downplay the importance of abstract values and violent entertainment and promote the importance of relationships and experience.
Anthony Stephenson, Texas, USA

No law will ever prevent criminals from obtaining and abusing guns. Gun control simply prevents the 99% of the population that is law-abiding from protecting themselves. The best way to end school shootings quickly (and hijackings for that matter) is to arm and train even a small percent of law-abiding citizens. Americans who legally carry concealed handguns have a firearms safety record many times better than that of the police. Unless we want to live in a police state, we must take personal responsibility for our safety and our children's safety.
Pete Tucker, Denver, USA

This obviously disturbed boy needed help after being expelled

Sean B, Cincinnati, USA
This massacre could have been prevented. How? It starts with the parents. This obviously disturbed boy needed help after being expelled. Our parents shape who we are and what we become more than anything else in the world. After all, don't the say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?
Sean B, Cincinnati, USA

I hope those in Germany see this. I live in Denver, where Columbine is, and I know the shock and horror something like this does to a town. My deepest sympathy goes out to the victims, the families, the school, and the community. Violence is tragic and just not understandable. It will be a long time before the families and community can heal and I know that everyone who has ever been touched by something like this is sincerely praying for them. I am so sorry for their loss.
Sally, US

The incident in question proves beyond any reasonable doubt that US does not have a franchise on violence and that preponderance of guns has little to do with severity of the crimes. Germany has one of the strictest gun laws in the world. And what?
Mirek Kondracki, USA

Kids shouldn't have access to guns when they can't even drive a car

Tom Byrne, US
This is no time to act smug, whether you're a European who thought that this was an "American" type of crime, or for Americans to rejoice in that mistaken preconception. This is a terrible way to learn a lesson, but it's time that we paid more attention to our children and took a greater part in their lives. And I don't care what side of the gun control debate you're on, but kids shouldn't have access to guns when they can't even drive a car.
Tom Byrne, US

My heart and prayers go out to the families of the victims of the German massacre. For so long, the US was blamed for being the only country with school violence, but that obviously is not true. This is the fourth school attack in Germany, three involving guns and the other involving a knife. In recent years, Japan and Canada have also seen school violence. Last year in Japan, a man killed eight small children in a grade school with a knife. What can be done to keep kids all over the world safe in their schools? I don't know. However I do know that most of schools in the world never experience violence like this.
Kim, USA

See also:

26 Apr 02 | Europe
18 die in German school massacre
26 Apr 02 | Europe
History of school shootings
18 Jul 01 | Education
School shootings warning signs

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