Gun laws in Germany
Before you buy or operate a weapon in Germany it is important to understand the rules and regulations in place so that you don’t get into trouble with the police. Firearm regulations vary widely from country to country, so gun enthusiasts should take note of these key differences when it comes to German gun laws.
German gun laws
Unlike some other nations around the world, gun laws in Germany are relatively strict. Even within the police force and army in Germany, gun controls are stringent and there are strict conditions that come with buying, maintaining and operating firearms.
Are guns legal in Germany?
In short, guns are legal in Germany, but only under very strict conditions. In order to own a firearm, for example if you are simply buying weapons as a collector, you need to have a possession card (Waffenbesitzkarte).
Can you own guns in Germany?
As for gun ownership, you need to obtain a possession card (Waffenbesitzkarte) for each weapon you intend to own or buy. This means that you can own and maintain your weapon in your own home. In order to obtain the possession card there are a number of criteria you need to meet - you must be more than 18, show trustworthiness, demonstrate personal adequacy and expert knowledge and you must demonstrate necessity. Only if these criteria are met to the standards of the German authorities, can you then obtain a permit to own a firearm.
Can you carry guns in public in Germany?
To carry your weapon outside of your home, you need a second licence as well as a possession card - a weapons licence (Waffenschein) - which will allow you to legally use or carry a loaded firearm. This type of permit is rarely issued in Germany, and is often saved for people who use weapons as part of their profession - for example, bodyguards or private security operatives.
In order to obtain a weapons possession card or a weapons licence, you must undergo training and be able to demonstrate expert knowledge about firearms. You can apply for weapons permits at local authorities, depending on which federal state you are a resident of. Most of the time, the issuing authority is district administrations, the regulatory offices or the responsible police departments, but you can check with your local citizen services where to apply for a weapon.
If you buy a weapon and you want to transport it, or take it into a public place, the possession card requires you to store the firearm unloaded in a fully-enclosing, locked container.
Gun laws in Germany vs US
Compared to the United States, the key difference in gun laws is that in Germany, you need to have a compelling reason to own a gun. In order to get a permit to own a gun in Germany you need to prove to the authorities why it is necessary to do so.
By comparison, in the United States, some states require you to have a permit to own a firearm, but many also do not. German firearm laws also apply nationally, rather than just on a state-by-state basis as in the US.
Do German police carry guns?
German police have always carried small pistols, but some police also carry larger machine guns at high-security places like airports and government buildings. There are a lot of rules about where, when and in what kind of situations the German police are allowed to fire their weapons and they will always choose to take lesser measures when it is safe to do so.
Image: Shutterstock.com / Mircea Moira
A brief history of gun control laws in Germany
Though Germany has strict gun control rules now, it hasn’t always been the case. Throughout history, a number of different firearms laws have applied in the federal republic, changing who, why and in what situations guns can be purchased, owned and fired.
German Weapons Act 1935: Gun control in the Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic was one of the periods of German history during which gun laws were the most similar to those of the present day. Firearm rules in the Weimar Republic were strict and at the time, not many people in Germany owned guns.
Only those over the age of 20 were allowed to own weapons in the Weimar Republic. All German residents were subject to strict restrictions on gun ownership, except for those working for the government and for the railways.
German Weapons Act 1938
When the Nazi party came to power, gun laws changed in Germany. Now, more people in the country were allowed to own guns, provided they met certain conditions. The 1938 law completely deregulated the sale and acquisition of rifles and shotguns, since regulations only applied to handguns.
The possession of ammunition was also liberalised and the age at which guns could be purchased was lowered from 20 to 18. Hunters, government workers and NSDAP members were no longer subject to gun ownership restrictions.
Nazi Germany gun laws
Despite the liberalisation of German gun laws under the Nazis, oppressed groups were still not able to purchase firearms. Jewish people were banned not only from buying and owning guns, but they were even banned from working in weapons and ammunition factories as well as dealing arms.
The 1938 law included a sister law, the Regulations Against Jews' Possession of Weapons, which came into force the day after Kristallnacht, that banned Jews from possessing any kind of weapons - not just guns, but also knives, truncheons and ammunition.
German gun statistics
Roughly 1 million people in Germany legally own firearms, with the country home to more than 5 million firearms overall. Most of these owners are interested in shooting for sport and hunting. Despite this, many German politicians argue that gun ownership should be made more restrictive.
Gun ownership in Germany
Gun ownership in Germany is not uncommon. According to data from Germany’s National Weapons Registry, there are 5,4 million legally owned guns across the federal states, which makes the country the fourth most armed in the world. Despite this, Germany has one of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the world. However, a number of mass shootings in recent years have sparked a debate over further restricting the availability of firearms across the country.
Gun crime in Germany
Since guns are strongly regulated in Germany, there is relatively less gun crime in comparison to nations with lax gun laws. On average, around 155 people are killed by gunshots each year in Germany, mostly due to crime, but from time to time there are some more serious incidents where firearms have been used including in mass shootings such as the 2023 Hamburg shooting and terrorist attacks including the 2020 Halle synagogue attack.
Even though Bavaria is often the “odd one out” when it comes to some laws, school holidays and cultural festivals, the state abides by the same rules as the rest of the country when it comes to firearms and weapons. Munich has suffered in a number of mass shootings, including the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 2016 Munich mass shooting that killed nine people and injured 27 more. Firearms control therefore remains an issue many people in Munich feel strongly about.
Despite guns not being commonly owned in Germany, the country has designed and manufactured some of the most well-known guns in the world. The MP5 is one of the most widely-used machine guns globally and is manufactured by the German firm Heckler and Koch.
Other famous German weapons include the Heckler and Koch VP9 pistol and the Karabiner 98K, which was a powerful force in historic German military events.
German gun control laws
Before purchasing a gun in Germany, it’s important to make sure that you meet all the requirements and possess the proper permits to do so. Failure to comply with German gun laws could come with a hefty penalty such as a fine or even time in jail.
It’s a good idea to connect with local shooting clubs in your local area for more detailed advice and be sure to check the regulations in your German state.