Did German gun control laws prevent a much worse massacre in Halle?

According to German authorities, only the attacker's poor aim and the poor quality of his homemade firearms saved nine other people he fired at during his half-hour rampage.

People place candles at central market square in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
People place candles at central market square in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting
(photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
As Stephan Balliet reached the synagogue in the German city of Halle with the intent to massacre the worshipers gathered for Yom Kippur on Wednesday, he repeatedly tried to break into the building by targeting the entrance door with his homemade weapons.
But the door held up. Balliet, who was live-streaming the attack, started cursing the ineffectiveness of his equipment.
“I have certainly managed to prove how absurd improvised weapons are,” Balliet said, as quoted by The Washington Post.
He later shot a woman dead who was passing by, as well as a young man who was eating at a nearby kebab restaurant.
According to German authorities, only the attacker's poor aim and the poor quality of his homemade firearms saved nine other people he fired at during his half-hour rampage. A German federal prosecutor said Balliet would be charged with two counts of murder and nine counts of attempted murder.
According to the US Library of Congress, Germany has among the most restrictive gun laws in Europe, heavily regulating the acquisition, possession and carrying of weapons.
Several reforms were passed to make the regulations more stringent after a number of school shootings in 2002, 2006 and 2009 that resulted in more than 35 deaths.
As explained by the German edition of the online newspaper, The Local, in order to acquire a gun, Germans need to obtain a license, which entails going through extensive background checks, including the examination of criminal records, problems with substance abuse and mental health-related issues.
Moreover, applicants have to pass a “specialized knowledge test” on firearms and provide a specific reason for needing the weapon. Those who are under 25 are also required to pass a psychiatric evaluation. After the license is granted, public officials can demand at any time to enter the owner’s private property and verify that the gun is stored correctly.
“Our attacker had a limited arsenal of self-built explosives and submachine guns. While he may have used these self-styled weapons in an attempt to prove their efficacy, it is also quite possible it was because he had no legal access to anything better,” Yaffa Fogel, a Berlin-based American Jew and a survivor of the attack, wrote in an op-ed on CNN's website on Friday.
“If there were ever a clear encapsulation of why gun control is the only effective measure against mass shootings, it would be Halle. Please remember it,” she added.
In spite of the stringent regulations, Germany is one of the countries with the highest number of legal guns per capita in the world – about 5.5 million, according to The Local.
Yet, according to a 2016 New York Times article, only two people out of every million are murdered by a firearm every year, as opposed to 31 per million people in the United States, which holds the record for the number of guns per capita.
However, the Halle shooting has also highlighted the danger of self-made weapons, which are more challenging to monitor.
The magazine Der Spiegel reported that the evidence investigators seized from the Halle flat that the gunman shared with his mother included a 3D printer, which is believed to have created the homemade guns he used in his failed attempt to storm the synagogue.
Balliet included “proving the viability of improvised weapons” as the top priority in the list of goals featured in his 11-pages manifesto, which also mentioned killing as many “anti-Whites” as possible, “Jews preferred.”
If the gun-making trend used to be part of an “obscure gun nerd subculture and gun rights protest movement… in the last few years, we’ve seen extremists gravitate toward it,” said Mark A. Tallman, from the Colorado State University Center for the Study of Homeland Security to The Washington Post, commenting the Halle attack.