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Shootings shock German gun clubs

German shooting club member Ilse Ringelmann
Ilse Ringelmann has been visiting her shooting club for the last 37 years

The shootings in southern Germany on Wednesday by the 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer has turned the spotlight on the country's gun laws. Heike Karkinsky has been speaking to members of a shooting club near Hamburg for their views.

Ilse Ringelmann reloads her rifle with manicured hands. She focuses on the paper target 50m (54 yards) in front of her, her sandaled feet lodged firmly on the concrete floor.

The air smells of gunpowder and car tyres. A shot cracks through the narrow shooting gallery. She hits the bull's-eye, of course.

For 37 years, Mrs Ringelmann and her husband have been members of the shooting club in Volksdorf, a north-eastern district of Hamburg.

A day after Kretschmer shot 12 of his former schoolmates and teachers in the small town of Winnenden and then three in nearby Wendlingen, feelings run high among those who shoot as a sport and hobby.

"I carry the keys to my gun around with me all the time, and not even my wife has a spare," says club secretary Michael Druegg.

There is widespread disbelief that the young gunman could have had access to one of the 15 weapons legally owned by his father.

Club president Georg Stiel
Guns are our sports equipment. Of course they are weapons, but so are golf clubs, tennis rackets and broken bottles
Georg Stiel
Volksdorf club president

"A gun on the bedside cabinet - that's a criminal offence," Mr Druegg says.

Kretschmer's father belongs to a shooting club just like the one in Volksdorf and passed on some of his skills to his son.

The family is said to have had a private firing range set up in the cellar of their house.

It has yet to be decided if the father will face legal action for not locking away his equipment.

Yet shooting enthusiasts are already concerned that such extreme individuals discredit the whole sport.

"The actual problem is violent computer games," says Georg Stiel, president of the club in Volksdorf.

"They mislead young ones, letting them shoot people and animals without being at risk themselves. I would have those games banned."

Shooting clubs, on the other hand, teach respect towards weapons as well as safety rules, gun law, discipline and patience, Mr Stiel says.

"Guns are our sports equipment. Of course they are weapons, but so are golf clubs, tennis rackets and broken bottles," he adds.

'Strict laws'

According to the German Shooting Federation (DSB), there are more than 15,100 clubs scattered all over the country.

They evolved from militias which were set up to protect cities and towns in the Middle Ages and have today become part of a mass sport movement like football or golf.

TIM KRETSCHMER
File photograph of Tim Kretschmer in 2006
Left Albertville school last year after passing exams
Officials said he was an ordinary pupil who had received good reports from school
German media reported he had begun an apprenticeship
Lived in the village of Leutenbach
A keen table-tennis player, who aspired to become professional

Many popular traditions have survived though. Every year, countless villages and towns in rural Germany stage their own "Schuetzenfest" or shooting fair.

Club members march through the streets in uniforms heavy with medals, awards and ribbons and contests are held to determine the best marksman.

An estimated two million Germans practise shooting as a sport.

According to the DSB, each member owns an average of two to four guns. And that does not include firearms belonging to the armed forces, policemen and hunters.

After Wednesday's massacre, the debate about tightening gun laws to keep a check on the millions of weapons in private hands unsurprisingly flares up.

In Volksdorf, this is received with disdain.

"Our gun law is one of the strictest in the whole world," Mr Stiel says. "People who demand this have never read the law."

At the moment, German politicians seems to agree with this line.

"I can't see at all how any modification of the gun law could have changed anything about what has happened," said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

The marksmen in Volksdorf do not tire in pointing out the strict regulations at their firing range.

"The floor is sealed, the ventilation is equipped with nitrosamine filters and every pillar is padded," says secretary Michael Drugg.

Scraps of lead scattered over the rubbery floor have to be cleared up with explosion-proof vacuum cleaners.

"We are safer than any petrol station," he adds.

Camaraderie

After shooting a few rounds, the club veterans gather around a beer or two in a room crammed with cups, flags and medals.

Mrs Ringelmann has taken off her green jacket and relaxes with a drink.

The 69-year-old joined the club because her schoolmates did.

"The camaraderie is what has made us stay on ever since," she says.

"We help each other and we are there for each other."

That seems to be a crucial experience the gunman from Winnenden never had.

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