German School Shooting Occurred Despite Gun Control Laws

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Paris, France ( - Germany Monday was struggling to come to grips with a violent rampage which left 17 people dead in a high school, in what media commentators described as a "wake-up call" for the nation.

Nineteen-year old Robert Steinhaeuser, expelled from the Gutenberg school in Erfurt two months ago, walked in on Friday, changed into black clothing, and began his shooting spree.

Armed with a 9mm pistol, pump action shotgun and 500 rounds of ammunition, he killed 13 teachers, two students, and a policeman before being confronted by a history teacher who challenged him to look him in the eyes as he shot him. Instead the gunman said: "That's it for today."

The teacher managed to lock him in a storeroom, where Steinhaeuser shot and killed himself.

The popular tabloid newspaper, Bild, attributed the tragedy to violent television programs and computer games.

When police searched Steinhaeuser's home, they found a number of violent computer games, as well as comic books featuring violent scenes.

German newspapers were filled with soul-searching editorials trying to establish what drove the gunman.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Germans had come to expect "images of children and parents in shock" only from the United States.

Students who knew Steinhaeuser said he was introverted but he occasionally socialized with other young people at a club where he liked to dance to hip-hop music. Some said he was fond of heavy metal music and violent video games.

Die Welt wrote that German schools were no longer safe for children and that society needed to take firmer action against violence.

Another newspaper, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, called for better gun control laws. Germany has relatively strict laws, but the killer was a gun club member and was licensed to own weapons.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Monday tighter regulations were being considered, including raising the legal age for owning weapons from 18 to 21.

Violence in German schools has been on the rise in the past few years. Last February, a gunman killed three people, including a headmaster, at his former school in Bavaria. Crimes involving firearms have also become less rare in France, Britain and elsewhere, despite laws that are stricter than those governing firearm ownership in the U.S.

Steinhaeuser failed school exams last year and was expelled in February for forging signatures on absence notes.

His mother, a nurse, was unaware of his expulsion, and had thought he was taking a test on the morning of the shootings.

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