Shooting: Hamburg massacre with seven victims intensifies debate on gun control in Germany | International | The USA Print

The usual calm in the Gross Borstel district north of Hamburg was disturbed on Thursday night. “It was quite late, and suddenly we heard the shots,” recounts Nadine Süssdorf, 41, the day after the attack. Some neighbors believed, like her, that the noise could come from a huge construction site next to a building, which Jehovah’s Witnesses have used as a meeting place for years. What she saw next on television left her in shock: a gunman had caused a massacre in the cult center located tens of meters from his house.

Seven people, including the police including a seven-month-old unborn child, allegedly died at the hands of a 35-year-old man identified as Philipp F., a German with no criminal record, who had previously been part of this congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses . The victims are four men and two women between the ages of 32 and 60, and the unborn child of a third, who was seriously injured. Eight people had to be rushed to different hospitals with gunshot wounds; four of them are serious.

The event is still very recent, but voices have already begun to be raised asking whether the current gun possession laws in Germany are enough to prevent cases like this. Last January, police received an anonymous tip about the conduct of Philipp F. Someone told officers that the man, who was in business as a freelancer, possessed a gun and may have an undiagnosed mental illness.

A video recorded by a witness with his mobile phone shows how the killer fired first from outside, from a ground-floor window through which he later entered the building. Once inside, he continued to empty magazines at the faithful gathered there. The rapid arrival of the police prevented the tragedy from escalating, also remarked the German Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, who visited the area on Friday and confirmed that the new law being prepared by her department provides for tests to determine the psychological suitability of the gun owners.

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Recent cases of shooting killings have fueled the debate on controls, which in Germany are already considered quite strict. In February 2020, a far-right gunman murdered nine people, mostly of Turkish origin, in Hanau, in the west of the country, then killed his mother and shot himself. In 2019, a neo-Nazi shot at point blank range the politician Walter Lübcke, a well-known defender of the open-door policy for refugees. That same year, another ultra-rightist attempted to enter the Halle synagogue armed on the day of the Yom Kippur celebration and, failing to do so, he attacked two people who passed by on the street, who died of gunshot wounds.

Following these attacks, and last year’s dismantling of a network of extremists planning a coup, the government of Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has recently come under pressure to toughen the laws. The Ministry of the Interior is working on a draft that will allow a stricter control of weapons and that includes, according to what the German press has published, psychological suitability tests. Currently, it is already controlled, prior to the issuance of the permit, if the applicant appears in any database of the federal or regional intelligence services as suspected of extremism.

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Suicide upon arrival of the agents

The assailant acted alone and committed suicide inside the building when the agents arrived, who did not have to use their weapons and found him seriously injured on the ground. The shooting began after 9:00 p.m. The first call for help was registered at 9:05 p.m., said the Hamburg Interior Minister, Andy Grote. The first police officers arrived just four minutes later, which “prevented a lot of deaths,” Grote said. The scene of the events is located a short distance from the Hamburg police headquarters, and several units were on their way there when they received the notice.

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The investigation is now trying to determine what moved Philipp F. to attack those who had been his brothers in the community, which he left just over a year ago. The agents rule out a political or terrorist motive and point to psychiatric problems. The man had a weapons license and had legally owned a semi-automatic pistol (a Heckler & Koch P30) since last December, according to the head of the police operation, Matthias Tresp, during a press conference on Friday at noon. The attacker emptied nine ammunition magazines. In a search at his house, 15 more chargers were found.

Some agents showed up by surprise at the man’s house on February 7, verified that his documentation was in order and examined whether his weapon and ammunition were properly stored. They were not surprised by his behavior. Philipp P. cooperated with them and did not give any sign that he had a mental health problem, Meyer said, who even detailed that the man talked to the agents about the furniture in his apartment. When it was pointed out that one of the bullets was incorrectly placed on the gun safe, he apologized and put it away. “In the end they told him verbally that it was a minor offense and they left,” said the police chief.

Although the reasons for the attack are unknown, the authorities indicated that the man had manifested his hatred for the religious and Jehovah’s Witnesses, a confession to which he himself, raised in a religious family in Bavaria, in southern Germany, had belonged. Philipp F. had lived in Hamburg since 2014, according to his profile on the LinkedIn network. Previously, he had resided in Frankfurt. He was an amateur shooter and a member of the shooting sports federation, which is why he had one of the around 940,000 gun licenses in Germany.

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“It is very sad. I did not know the victims, but I live 15 minutes from here and I have felt the need to come to express my condolences,” said a girl in her 20s this Friday after leaving some flowers in front of the Kingdom Hall ―the name with which refer to their places of worship the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Deelböge Street. By Thursday night about 50 people had gathered to participate in one of the weekly bible study sessions.

“We are shocked. We do not harm anyone; our congregations only preach love and respect and there is nothing extreme about us”, lamented Michael, on the verge of bursting into tears. A member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but from another congregation that meets in another Hamburg neighborhood, he had come on Friday afternoon to try to support his “brothers”. The three-story building, located between a gas station and an auto glass repair shop, was already empty and boarded up. In the morning the bodies of the victims had been removed and the scientific police had finished their work. Some bouquets of flowers on the ground reminded of the tragedy.

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