In an attempt to crack down on “far-right” and Neo-Nazi violence, including the assassination of a local politician a few weeks ago, German members of Parliament are expected to approve more restrictive gun control measures as well as legislation requiring social media networks to report content removed by the sites to law enforcement.
The legislation would further toughen the country’s strict 2018 law against online hate speech. The law passed last year requires companies running social media platforms, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, to remove “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, or face fines of up to 50 million euros, or about $56 million.
Under the proposed legislation, just removing the posts would no longer be enough — companies would also be required to report any such content to the authorities. Germany’s federal police plan to establish a new department that would collect the reported content and the I.P. addresses — the numbered codes that differentiate individual internet connections — of those posts.
Spreading insults and hate-speech online would also carry stiffer sentences, reflecting the “unlimited reach” of such comments.
Spreading “insults” is going to carry a stiffer sentence? It shouldn’t carry a sentence at all. Germany supposedly protects the freedom of speech in Article Five of its constitution, which states:
- Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing, and pictures and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
- These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honor.
- Art and scholarship, research, and teaching shall be free. The freedom of teaching shall not release any person from allegiance to the constitution.
Despite those protections, insulting someone is indeed a criminal offense in Germany, along with a host of other speech restrictions. The country even maintains something called an Index of Harmful Materials, which does not impose an outright ban on materials but greatly restricts their access.
Those are the speech laws in Germany despite a supposed constitutional protection of the right to free speech, so you can imagine what the gun laws are like given the fact that the right to keep and bear arms appears nowhere in the German constitution. The country has some of the most restrictive laws in Europe, which is saying something.
To get a gun, Germans must first obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).
Applicants for a license must be at least 18 years old and undergo what’s called a reliability check, which includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have mental illness or any other attributes that might make them questionable to authorities.
The also have to pass a “specialized knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.
One must also prove a specific and approved need for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.
Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for all, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.
Under the reforms passed in the wake of a 2009 mass shooting, gun owners are also subject to continued monitoring by the government with officials able to ask gun owners at any time to enter their private property and check that they are properly storing their weapons.
On top of those laws, lawmakers in Germany now want to add in social media screening to the background check procedures.
Germany already has strict gun laws that forbid the production of weapons and require extensive training and a permit to purchase a firearm. Nevertheless, authorities found last year that more than 790 people considered far-right extremists held a weapons permit. Under the proposed legislation, those permits could be revoked.
The individual who recently attacked a synagogue in Halle, Germany used homemade weapons and was apparently self-radicalized online, and critics of these proposals argue they fail to address the actual problem. As in the United States, that fact might not matter much to politicians who simply want to say they did “something” in response to the attack.