BERLIN — The last major debate over gun control in Germany was in 2009, when Tim Kretschmer, 17, got his hands on one of his father’s guns and went on a rampage at his school in Winnenden, in southwest Germany.
He killed nine students and three teachers, as well as two workers at a nearby auto dealership and an employee at a local clinic. The teenage gunman, who had grappled with failing grades, hijacked a car and eventually shot himself.
It was the worst such episode since 2002, when an expelled student, Robert Steinhäuser, 19, returned to his high school in Erfurt and killed 12 teachers, the school secretary, two students and a police officer before taking his own life.
Mass shootings are not unknown in Europe. But they do not occur at anywhere near the frequency of the United States, which has reported about one multiple shooting for every day so far this year.
In Germany, tough gun laws that were tightened still more after the 2009 shooting, combined with European Union guidelines that also address guns, have made gun-related crimes far more unusual than in the United States.
Yet Germany ranked fourth in the world for guns per capita in 2013, according to the magazine Der Spiegel. A national weapons register, which Germany has been required to maintain since 2013, along with each of the other 27 member nations of the European Union, reports 1.5 million gun owners, with about 5.5 million weapons.
A major difference with the United States, experts say, is that gun ownership in Germany is a privilege, not a right, as American gun advocates insist is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
Günter Lach, 61, a member of Parliament for the center-right Christian Democrats and a passionate marksman, said another difference in Germany is that, “at any given moment, you know where a gun is.”
Still, there is tension here between those who want greater rights for gun owners and those who think that guns should be rarely available even to sportsmen.
To purchase a gun in Germany, you must earn — usually over the course of several months — a certificate that proves you know how to handle both the weapon and its ammunition. You must prove that you can store it safely, in a place to which only you, as the owner, have access. You cannot acquire any shooting weapon until you are at least 18, and if you are under 25 you must undergo a psychological exam before being allowed to own a gun.
Even marksmen or hunters with decades of experience must register each new gun they purchase.
Oversight for all this is with the Weapons Authority, which is part of the Criminal Office (the investigative branch of the police) that exists in each of the 16 states. The Weapons Authority can carry out random inspections at the homes of gun owners.
Crimes involving guns are still relatively rare. German government statistics showed that while criminal acts increased last year to just over six million in a country of 80.6 million people, crimes that violated weapons laws declined to 30,785 cases, or by 2.1 percent, from 2013.
There was a slight decrease in violent crimes last year in the United States as well, and the rate of gun-related homicides declined to 3.6 per 100,000 people by 2010 from 6.6 per 100,000 in 1981. But the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that keeps track of gun violence, tallied more than 40,000 acts of violence involving guns so far this year.
Mr. Lach, who has been shooting for 40 years, is among the hundreds of thousands of sports shooters in Germany who tend to meet in tradition-laced clubs to pursue their hobby. These marksmen, and equally enthusiastic hunters, make up the bulk of gun owners.
While they mostly resist the stricter controls sought by some, they look with bewilderment across the Atlantic, where mass shooting after mass shooting has not resulted in tightened laws.
“Over there with you, almost anyone can have a weapon,” Mr. Lach said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think that’s right, but it is not my business. I have Germany to worry about.”
It is not as if Germany does not worry about guns, particularly since the recent mass killings. And for the family members of those gunned down in the 2009 and 2002 cases, no law is too tough when it comes to protecting lives.
Gisela Mayer lost her daughter Nina, a student teacher, in the Winnenden massacre. In the six years since the attack, Ms. Mayer, who teaches philosophy and psychology, has worked with a volunteer association to alert students, parents and teachers to the potential dangers of emotionally disturbed people, and of weapons. Like others close to gun victims, she thinks about what might have been.
If Mr. Kretschmer’s father, Jörg, an enthusiastic sports shooter, had followed the law, his 9 millimeter Beretta semiautomatic pistol would not have been stored in an open closet, available for his son to steal.
So after 2009, German lawmakers tightened rules on storing weapons, instituting random checks on weapons owner. There were also two amnesties to hand in old weapons inherited within families but no longer wanted. And, in 2013, because of European measures, the national register was started.
Gun opponents remain skeptical. Ms. Mayer argues that if guns must be owned privately, then ammunition should be kept separately. But Germany, like the United States, also has gun lobbying groups. Frank Gröpper, a member of the Forum Right to Weapons, cited experts who say that separating weapons and bullets only creates “hot spots” for criminals determined to get their hands on supplies.
In addition, keeping weapons and ammunition under lock and key like that means sports shooters would not be able to train when they wanted, he said.
Dietrich Oberwittler, a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for International Criminal Law in Freiburg, who has examined mass killings and suicide in families, said more people perish when a parent with mental illness kills a spouse and children, often with a gun, and then commits suicide than in these well publicized rampages.
But school shootings tend to draw attention in the news media, perhaps providing unhappy young men with the idea of how to unload their frustration, he said.
Trying to discern motive, and figuring out the role played by access to weapons, ready or limited, is guesswork, he suggested. He pointed in particular to Europe, where few countries have experienced mass shootings at schools: Britain, in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996; Finland (2007 and 2008); and Germany.
And then there is normally tranquil Norway, where in 2011 Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in an Oslo bombing, then shot dead 69 others at a summer camp nearby.
Ms. Mayer recalled that Mr. Breivik later said that it was easier for him to obtain a legal gun through a shooting club than to purchase one on the black market.
“I was horrified,” Ms. Mayer said, when she heard the news that nine people had been shot dead at a community college in Oregon and that the gunman had then shot himself. “ I know so exactly what those people are feeling now.”
In Germany, she added, “people often say ‘it is pretty rare.’ But all that means is ‘Hopefully nothing happens to me,’ and ‘If it hits others, I don’t care.’ It is still not taken seriously enough.”