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Minimum age for firearms possession not to be cut for germans

The interior minister of Germany said Monday that the minimum age for legally possessing firearms - increased after a school shooting in 2002 – will not be reduced. The announced followed widespread criticism even from within the governing coalition.

The Interior Ministry said on Sunday that it was considering reducing to 18 from 21 the lower limit for buying and possessing large-caliber firearms for recreational use, such as those used on rifle ranges, while introducing a new psychological suitability test for potential owners under age 25.

It said that the proposal had been made in anticipation of an effort to harmonize rules across the European Union. The ministry also said the increase from 18, introduced after a teenager fatally shot 16 people and himself at his former school in Erfurt in 2002, had not been proved to bring added safety.

Following criticism from both sides of Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right "grand coalition," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble intervened Monday to stop the plan.

"Safety comes first," the minister said in a statement. "Even in developing and implementing future EU law, the safety concerns of the population have absolute priority - so the existing age limit of 21 stays."

Schaeuble's spokesman, Stefan Kaller, told reporters that, after hearing reactions to the proposal, the minister discussed the issue again with experts early Monday and "very quickly" decided against pursuing it.

Among opponents of the idea was Dieter Althaus, the governor of Thuringia state - where Erfurt is located - and, like Schaeuble, a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats.

"Back then, we pushed for (gun laws) to be tightened," Althaus said. "I think it has proven its worth."

Kurt Beck, the leader of the center-left Social Democrats - who form the other half of Merkel's coalition - argued that there was no reason for a change.

"I can think of other things that should be harmonized rather the idea of easier access to weapons," Beck said on Suedwestrundfunk radio.

Still, there was some support for the proposal from Schaeuble's fellow conservatives.

"I think there are certain wishes on the part of recreational marksmen, and they are in part justified, and we should accede to them," said Christian Wulff, the governor of Lower Saxony state.

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