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Saturday, 27 April, 2002, 01:20 GMT 02:20 UK
Germany massacre sparks guns rethink
Girls mourn the dead at a church service in Erfurt
The murder of 17 people at a school in Germany has prompted new debate over gun laws in several European countries.

Thirteen teachers, a school secretary, two female pupils and a police officer were killed by a 19-year-old former pupil who then turned his gun on himself in the east Germany city of Erfurt on Friday.

The killings, which took place in the space of half-an-hour, were described as a "bloodbath, with bodies found lying all over the Johann Gutenburg School.

Over 1,000 people attended an impromptu service of remembrance for the victims and their families at the Andreas Kirche in the centre of the town.

In Germany, lawmakers approved a government proposal to tighten weapons laws, by coincidence just two hours after the massacre.

map of Germany
Major school shootings:
  • 1996: 16 children and a teacher shot dead at Dunblane Primary School, Scotland
  • 1998: 4 pupils and a teacher killed by 2 boys aged 11 and 13 at Westside Middle School, Arkansas, in the US
  • 1999: 12 pupils and a teacher killed by 2 teenage gunmen at Columbine High School, Colorado in the US

      Full chronology

  • The proposal, which must go to the upper house, requires a licence to carry gas-powered and blank pistols, banned several kinds of knives completely, along with separate storage of guns and ammunition.

    However, experts say the country is awash with illegal weapons smuggled into the country from eastern Europe and the Balkans.

    And Interior Minister Otto Schily said: "Whether something like this could have been prevented is an open question."

    He warned against drawing "hasty conclusions" from the shooting.

    "We must ask much deeper questions about what is going on in our society," he said.

    In shock

    In Austria, where gun laws already are highly restrictive, a Vienna lawyers' association on Friday called for a sweeping ban that would keep all weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens.

    Sign at school in Erfurt
    Students are struggling to understand the killings
    In France, politicians began taking a long look at gun laws last month after a man wielding two Glock semiautomatic pistols and a .357 Magnum shot dead eight city officials in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

    Even Switzerland is reconsidering its gun laws, which are the most relaxed in Western Europe.

    In Scotland on Friday, parents whose children were slain in the 1996 Dunblane kindergarten shooting appealed for Europe-wide gun curbs.

    For now, Germany is trying to come to terms with the killings.

    Germany is in mourning in the face of these incomprehensible events

    German President Johannes Rau
    Wreaths have been laid and candles lit outside the school.

    Church bells rang out across the medieval city as details of the tragedy sunk in.

    Public buildings will fly the flag at half-mast throughout the weekend but the city and its people are in shock.

    German President Johannes Rau said "We cannot find words for what we feel in Germany right now.

    "Germany is in mourning in the face of these incomprehensible events."

    The BBC's Patrick Bartlett
    "This weekend across Germany flags will fly at half-mast"
    Jochen Siemens, Frankfurter Rundschau
    "We do have very tight gun laws"
    See also:

    26 Apr 02 | Europe
    18 dead in German school shooting
    08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: Germany
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