The man accused of shooting two people to death in Halle, Germany, this week shares a lot of characteristics with American mass shooters: He’s a bigot with delusions of grandeur, and is part of an online community that fervently supports his hate.
But one thing that set him apart ― and likely curbed the death toll in Wednesday’s shootings outside a synagogue ― was his choice of weapons. Police say he was armed with homemade guns that jammed repeatedly during the attack. American mass killers, on the other hand, typically strike with a cache of military-style, semiautomatic weaponry.
That’s in part due to Germany’s strict gun laws. Had the Halle shooter had access to better guns, the bloodshed could have been much worse, experts said.
“It’s clear that if he had access to better weapons, the body count would have been higher,” said Vegas Tenold, a journalist and author with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Tenold tweeted a photo of the shooter’s slam-bang tube, adding, “This is a direct result of Germany’s strict gun laws.”
The shooter, in a gruesome, 36-minute video livestreamed on Twitch, used his improvised guns to kill two people after failing to get inside a synagogue filled with Yom Kippur worshippers.
His guns ― including a so-called slam-bang tube and a homemade 9mm rifle ― repeatedly jammed or failed to fire as he attempted to shoot. He said he wanted to prove the effectiveness of rudimentary weapons in a country that makes it hard to obtain semiautomatic guns.
Germany has some of the world’s strictest gun laws. All gun ownership is heavily regulated, and each legal purchase comes with a background check that considers addiction, mental health history, and criminal record. Gun buyers under 25 have to pass a psychological exam, and semiautomatic gun ownership requires special authorization.
German gun laws were tightened after school shootings in 2002 and 2009. In turn, shooting incidents dropped dramatically, according to The Washington Post.
Illegal weaponry and DIY guns are still a threat across much of Europe. But shooters need criminal connections to get their hands on semiautomatic firepower that is commonplace in America, said Nils Duquet, a weapons expert in Belgium with Flemish Peace Institute.
“If you want to buy an illegal gun in Europe, what’s important is having the right networks. For assault rifles, you need better criminal connections,” Duquet told The Washington Post. “But there are many hot spots in Europe where you can try, and that is what’s worrying.”
America’s gun laws, along with war-torn Yemen’s, are the world’s loosest. The U.S. is averaging more than one mass shooting per day this year. According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, 329 mass shootings ― defined as an incident in which four people or more are shot, excluding the shooter ― have occurred in the U.S. in 2019.
Military-style, semiautomatic rifles are often easier to obtain in the U.S. than handguns, and they kill twice as many people as other types of weapons, according to researchers.
“Active shooters are hell-bent on killing people,” Dr. Adil Haider, a trauma surgeon who was the lead author of a 2018 study on weapons used in “active shooter” incidents, told The Associated Press. “The big difference — and this is not such a big surprise — is if you give them a semiautomatic, they’re able to shoot twice the number of people.”