Winnenden, Germany Massacre Latest in Series of School Shootings
The shootings at the Albertville technical school in Winnenden, Germany are unfortunately only the latest in a series of incidents to hit educational institutions in recent years.
Erfurt was the scene of Germany's worst such attack when, in 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser went on the rampage, killing 14 students, two teachers and a policeman before taking his own life.
Steinhäuser had been expelled from school and prevented from taking exams which would have allowed him to go to university.
On exam day, as his former schoolmates were preparing for the tests, he went to the college anyway. Shortly before 11am he charged into a classroom and fired wildly, killing a teacher and two students. Next he focused his efforts on the teachers.
In about 10 minutes, he had murdered a quarter of the small teaching staff. In most instances, Steinhäuser shot the teacher from a distance before standing over them and finishing them off.
More recently, in 2007 and 2008, two massacres in Finland left the country shocked.
September 23, 2008: Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences, Kauhajoki, Finland. Student Matti Juhani Saari, 22, killed 10 people before shooting himself in the head. Saari, who had been armed with a semi-automatic pistol and Molotov cocktails, posted YouTube videos of himself firing weapons before embarking on the massacre.
November 7, 2007: Jokela High School, Tuusula, Finland. Pekka-Eric Auvinen, 18, killed seven fellow students and the school's principal before shooting himself in the head. Auvinen posted a YouTube video titled "Jokela High School Massacre" before the killing spree. In it he warned that he planned to "eliminate all who I see unfit." Brandishing a shotgun, the teenager was seen in the video wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Humanity is Overrated."
In the United States, there were two now infamous massacres at Virginia Tech and at Columbine High School.
The April 16th, 2007 rampage by student Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, left 32 people dead - the worst such incident in US history.
Cho, who had a history of anxiety disorders, sent a video recordings of himself, armed with pistols before embarking on the attack which culminated in him taking his own life. His victims included five faculty members and 27 students.
And in April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher in an attack at Columbine High School in Colorado.
One of the earliest incidents of its kind took place in Germany in 1964 at Volkhoven elementary school in Cologne.
On his 42nd birthday, diagnosed schizophrenic Walter Seifert killed eight students and two teachers using a lance and flamethrower before taking his own life by swallowing insecticide. Seifert, whose wife had recently died of tuberculosis, reportedly shouted "I am Adolf Hitler the second" during his attack.
Germany in fact has strict gun laws which were tightened up in May 2002. In spite of that the Erfurt shootings prompted a national debate on gun legislation.
Germany's gun laws were framed against a backdrop of the Second World War. After 1945, with Allied Forces charged with disarming the nation, not even police officers were allowed to carry firearms.
It was 1956 before private firearms were allowed, when the pre-Nazi gun-control law of 1928 was effectively reinstated. The law was revised in 1972, when the new Federal Weapons Act came into effect.
The Act requires that purchase and possession of each individual firearm requires a valid licence.
A hunter in Saxony told The Times that the regime to obtain a licence was a serious affair: "For hunters and gun club members, they have to answer more than 4,000 questions to get the licence and there is a specific emphasis in teaching and questions on gun law. You have to have everything registered."
Many of the outlawed weapons have their origins in Eastern Europe from stocks left over from the collapse of the former Soviet bloc and from conflicts in the Balkans. Germany's military conscription system also means that many are trained to use firearms.
Reports from Stuttgart today suggest that the school gunman came from a family of gun owners.