Do we need weapons to be powerful?

theme - Weapons

Whether in the shooting club or in shooter games. For many people there is a tremendous appeal to take up arms. Is that in our nature? How can a sensible use of weapons succeed? And do computer games actually increase the willingness to use a real weapon? All questions that Dietmar Heubrock got to the bottom of as a psychologist. Professor Heubrock, are there weapons to kill?

First of all, there are weapons to kill. Yes. But if you look at where legal weapons are used in German society today, then on the one hand there is hunting, where animals are of course killed, and on the other hand there is traditionally deeply rooted sport shooting. It is not about killing, and it is not intended as preparation for killing, but has purely sporting purposes.

Does aggression play a role in hunters?

We carried out research on the personality structure of hunters. We found that the aggression potential of active hunters is lower than that of the average population. Hunters do not go hunting primarily because they want to pursue their instinct for aggression and absolutely want to kill, but because they want to be in nature.

But you can also go to the forest to pick mushrooms.

That's right. Hunters need to be as close as possible to nature, the forest and the animals. And killing has been part of this since time immemorial, but not only. That also changes with age. Young hunters are looking forward to their first kill, while older hunters may not shoot, even if they have the opportunity.

We're talking about firearms now. But of course there are a ton of other legal weapons like crossbows, knives, or machetes that are relatively freely available.

But which you are not allowed to take on the street.

Exactly. But where does man's fascination with guns come from?

Weapons always had a life-sustaining role. Weapons secured the livelihood of the family or the tribe. Because of this, weapons were often made into a cult. Spears were worshiped by Indians. And that has been preserved to a certain extent. There are studies of boys in different cultures who, for example, carve spears out of branches when they were children. So the meaning of the weapon is deep within us.

That means: there is no point in banning children from playing with weapons?

As a conscientious objector, I used to campaign for guns to disappear from children's rooms. That was shaped by ideology. And in retrospect, I would say: These actions were not humane.

So there's nothing wrong with kids playing with plastic guns?

Not at all. Playing with guns does not necessarily lead to someone becoming a gunman or gun fanatic. Guns by themselves do not make you sick. And this fascination for weapons in childhood is also disappearing again.

People like to shoot in computer games too. Does this encourage aggression?

If you look at which shooter player actually injured or killed someone with a weapon: Well, this number is negligible. Of course, this discussion comes up when you learn that gunmen like Robert Steinhäuser played shooters. But that's what 70 percent of young men do.

So games or weapons don't act as an aggression accelerator?

It's pure ideology. It is not popular to say that. But just as girls prefer to reach for a blonde Barbie, boys prefer to pick up a gun. Guys want to feel powerful. Just like the warriors who went out earlier and returned with a slain mammoth and for whom respect was shown. And of course that's why guys still like to pose with guns today. But that doesn't mean that they actually shoot people. In general, I would like to see a much more objective approach to the subject in the discussion about weapons - and not ideologically, please.

But that sounds a bit like gender clichés to me. Aren't they detrimental to a factual debate?

No, on the contrary. Clichés are prejudices that cannot be tested against reality. Such a cliché is when we artificially discuss the gender differences, especially the innate ones, away because they do not fit into our wishful thinking. I think it is more sincere to state these differences between boys and girls openly, and we will then come closer to a factual discussion about boys' occasional fascination with guns; we would then also be able to see that this is a phase of development from which there is no real danger. I think that would relax the whole discussion about guns and their role in our society.

After rampages like the one in Erfurt and Winnenden, a tightening of the weapons law is often called for. Are such tightening of the law a guarantee of security against weapons at all?

No. That would only be possible if all weapons were removed from civil society. It's just unrealistic. The gun laws that we have in Germany are absolutely sufficient. There is also no need for the arms law to be liberalized. We don't want American conditions here. We have different cultural requirements. In the United States, culture goes back to the times of the Wild West, when settlers conquered and defended land gun in hand. That is why it is still said there today that one can protect one's country and one's family with weapons. This tradition has nothing to do with Germany.

The problem isn't the legal weapons either, is it?

Most crimes in Germany are committed with illegal weapons. And, unfortunately, their possession cannot be controlled at all. When the Soviet soldiers withdrew from the former GDR, they often sold their pistols and ammunition. Tens of thousands of weapons ended up on the black market. You can hardly control it with police means. That's not a pretty truth. But we don't want to create false feelings of security either.

And how many homicides are committed with legal firearms?

Only 0.6 percent. Most homicides are escalations within the family. And there someone who is, for example, a hunter and therefore has a weapon, does not go to his safe, unlocks the door, takes out the rifle and uses it to shoot his wife. By this time the affect would have fizzled out long ago. Most of the time you reach into the knife block and pull out the butcher's knife.

While rampages are planned much longer.

Exactly. Rampages are not acts of affect. They have been prepared for a long time and are based on a completely different psychological state of the perpetrator. These are mostly people with a depressive personality structure who have slipped, felt they were treated unfairly by the world and wanted to take revenge. The motive for revenge is crucial. These cases are rare and cannot be used as an example of the homicide crime par excellence.

Can you actually determine a tendency to misuse weapons with the help of a psychological test such as the one you developed for hunters or for employees of security companies?

Yes. Our diagnostics and questionnaires provide information about the personality structure. For the preparation of these tests, we had data from legal and illegal weapon owners and from those who were imprisoned for assault or killing with a firearm. But we don't say anything about the questions in the tests, otherwise you could adjust to the tests.

One final question. Do you personally have a weakness for weapons?

I have no weakness for guns, but as an active hunter I am a legal gun owner myself. In doing so, I regard the rifle and rifle as tools of the trade, like a carpenter uses a plane and a screw clamp; So I have no erotic relationship with my hunting weapons.

Dietmar Heubrock is director of the Institute for Forensic Psychology at the University of Bremen. In his work he is, among other things, with the prevention of attacks in public space, risk analyzes in the event of threats and with the psychological assessment of personal suitability and the intellectual maturity for possession of weapons according to the Weapons Act. In the amendment of the Weapons Act, he was an expert before the Interior Committee of the German Bundestag.

The photographers Miguel Hahn and Jan-Christoph Hartung live in Madrid and Berlin. Her work Firearms and Soap Bubbles shows private gun owners in Germany.