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12 Mar, 2009 03:06

‘American syndrome’ hits Europe?

After the horror of fifteen people being shot dead in a German school, the focus is now turning to what could have caused the gunman to do what he did.

School shootings are a type of attack that seem to be more and more frequent in recent years.

In this latest incident, nine students and three teachers were the first victims of the teenage gunman at a school near Stuttgart.

Another person was shot at a nearby clinic before the killer fled in a car with a hostage.

Finally, the two passers-by who died in the shoot-out with police were Tim Kretschmer’s last victims.

The tragic total is 15 people dead, plus the gunman himself.

Gunman warned of attack

German officials said that Kretschmer announced his plans in an Internet chatroom mere hours before the shooting.

Baden Wuerttenburg state’s Interior Minister Heribert Rech said the gunmen told others in the chat room that he was ‘sick of life’ and that he planned to attack his school.

Rech reported on Thursday that Kretschmer wrote: “You will hear from me tomorrow, remember the name of a place called Winnenden.”

Officials are saying the chat took place about six hours before the 9:30 am shooting.

Not only in Germany

This attack in Germany is the latest in a chain of bloodshed across Europe, which keeps bringing school shootings into the forefront of the public’s attention.

The news came less than 24 hours after 10 people died in the US in a series of shootings across two towns in the southern state of Alabama.

“Did the shooting in America have any effect on triggering this one? It probably did. They probably get sparked off by seeing it in the media and they are on the verge already, so it helps them flip over the top. This is generally speaking – as we have no actual evidence,” says Simon Meyerson, director of the Institute of Psychology, London.

School shootings used to primarily be a problem in the United States. But now it seems that the sickness that some refer to as ‘an American syndrome’ has traveled to the European continent and is spreading at an alarming speed.

The latest shootings in Germany come close to the country's worst incident in 2002 in which 17 people were killed by a gunman, who went on to take his own life.

In Finland another two bloody school massacres in 2007 and 2008 left 20 people dead, including the assailants.

This year has already seen two similar incidents in January – in two different countries. A man with a white painted face and blackened eyes fatally stabbed two infants and a woman at a child care centre in western Belgium. While in Norway, a policeman shot and killed a trainee female teacher and then himself outside a school.

“A shooting with guns and violence is prominent all over – in America anyone can own a gun so it’s easy for it to begin like this. As in Germany, a father had a set of guns – so the presence of the guns in the house is a big factor and the presence of violence in the media is an added factor, but the crucial thing is the isolation of the adolescent person,” says Simon Meyerson.

UK safe so far

In the United Kingdom there is practically no lobby for the ‘right to keep and bear arms,’ unlike in the United States. The country’s only school shooting so far, which took place in 1996 in Dunblane in Scotland, leaving 16 children dead along with their teacher and the attacker, has led to the toughening of gun laws. Now the rules are so strict that even professional British shooters currently train in Switzerland and receive no public sports funding because their events are considered illegal in the UK.

With the 2012 Olympics taking place in London, the government has had to announce that special dispensation will be granted to allow the various Olympic shooting events to proceed.

The latest attack in Germany puts the country under pressure to further reevaluate its gun laws, which are already quite tough. Just this week, Finland tightened its legislation as a result of last year’s events.

Some argue that no matter how strict the legislation, it will not deter hardcore criminals from using weapons acquired illegally. But it seems the gun lobby across Europe is losing the argument. And with the sad example of the United States, where gun bloodshed is a regular phenomenon, the debate continues.