Germany’s Jehovah’s Witnesses’ shooting (from our Hamburg Correspondent)

“Jehovah’s Witnesses” and “mass shootings” are not phrases that are often read in the same sentence: but on 9 March and the days that followed, these appeared in almost every headline across Europe. This horrible and still slightly mysterious incident took place in Hamburg, where my friend Owen Jones has lived for the last 35 years. So – as I did last year after the far more farcical “Citizens of the Reich” debacle (see link below) – I dropped him a line to see if he had his own angle on the story. Not much to my surprise, it turned out that he did. I shall therefore now step back and leave the floor to Penny Post’s Hamburg correspondent…

Whenever there are media headlines about a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake, a train crash or a mass shooting, it’s common practice for people to send social media messages to friends or family in the vicinity to enquire after their well-being. I received several such messages last Friday following the gun massacre at a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting in Hamburg.

I apologise in advance if my tone sounds cynical or flippant in the context of what was, by any standards, a dreadful human tragedy – but I do have my reasons. Having assured friends that we were unscathed, I added something along the lines of “we don’t actually go to many Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings these days…”

I don’t adhere to any organised religion. Put simply, I believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, and no-one has the right to impose those beliefs on anybody else. But there, of course, is the rub: a degree of evangelism is a central aspect – often the predominant one – of most, if not all, religious creeds.

Years ago, I was visiting my elderly Auntie Jan in North Wales. We were chatting in her kitchen when she glanced out of the window. She stopped mid-sentence, jumped to her feet and in no time she was scampering down her garden path with amazing alacrity for an infirm old lady. A middle-aged couple were standing outside the door of the house opposite. Jan was shouting at them. I don’t know what she was saying because she was shouting in Welsh, but the passionate anger of her tone transcended all language barriers.

The two people immediately turned and fled. This clearly wasn’t the first time that they had encountered the wrath of Auntie Jan.

The doorstepping couple were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jan was a retired District Nurse. I already knew the story of the experience that provoked her fury. She had been obliged to stand by helpless, trying to ease the dying hours of a five-year-old girl in the knowledge that a simple blood transfusion would have saved her life. The Jehovah’s Witness parents refused to allow the procedure because it contradicted their beliefs. No one asked the little girl about hers.

This wasn’t the only contact I’ve had with the sect but it will suffice for now.

The shooting was a ghastly, tragic event – all shootings are. It’s just that I really don’t find it surprising that a member, or ex-member, of this kind of organisation should be in a state of such mental disarray as to trigger terrifyingly nihilistic deeds.

In recent times there have been many acts of murderous violence committed by Islamic extremists. This is a sad reminder that religious fundamentalist terror is by no means an exclusively Moslem monopoly.

The shooter had either been expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or had left them of his own accord – it’s not yet clear which. Similarly there is currently only speculation about the reasons for his departure. What is known is that he came from a strictly evangelical background, and that he termed himself a consultant in various areas ranging from “Controlling” to theology. Evidence of his remote grasp on reality may be seen in the fact that his consultancy services were quoted at a daily rate of €250,000 plus tax.

We’ve become sadly accustomed to the news of such mass shootings, on a horrendously regular basis, from the USA. Obviously, one of the reasons why they are still regularly rare – though of course no less shocking – on this side of the Atlantic is the difference in gun control.

The laws on this in Germany are among the strictest in Europe. (I’m afraid I don’t know how they compare to the UK.) The killer was in possession of a Waffenbesitzkarte (a gun ownership card), which is a kind of learner’s licence. It allowed him to keep a weapon on authorised premises such as a shooting or hunting club but not to retain it in his possession anywhere else. There are naturally all sorts of problems with the practical implementation of such restrictions.

Apparently the police questioned the man quite recently after receiving a tip-off about his mental instability, but found “no reason” to remove his gun licence.

Strict gun laws notwithstanding, I recall being quite shocked by the visibility of weapons, both on police officers’ belts and in shop windows, when I first moved to Germany. If you walk along the Reeperbahn you can pass shop windows displaying (in no particular order) tacky tourist souvenirs of the harbour, sex toys, cut-price alcohol, knives and hand-guns. I’m reminded of a Nikki Sudden song, inspired by a store sign in Texas, entitled “Liquor, Guns and Ammo” – what could possibly go wrong?

Owen Jones

By the same author:

The Imp of Groeningen – a cautionary tale.
Pride comes before The Fall.
The so-called Citizens of the Reich.

The header image was taken from this article on the subject by Euracitv.

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