Germans, facing an influx of more than one million asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, are rushing to arm themselves.
All across Germany, a country with some of the most stringent gun-control laws in Europe, demand is skyrocketing for non-lethal self-defense weapons, including pepper sprays, gas pistols, flare guns, electroshock weapons and animal repellants. Germans are also applying for weapons permits in record numbers.
The scramble to acquire weapons comes amid a migrant-driven surge in violent crimes — including rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — in cities and towns throughout the country.
German authorities, however, are going to great lengths to argue that the German citizenry's sudden interest in self-defense has nothing whatsoever to do with mass migration into the country, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
In recent weeks, German newspapers have published dozens of stories with headlines such as: "Germany is Afraid — And Grabs for the Weapon," "Germans are Arming Themselves: The Demand for Weapons Explodes," "More and More People are Buying a Weapon," "Security: Hands Up!" "The Need for Security Increases," "Boom in Weapons Stores," and "Bavarians are Arming Themselves— Afraid of Refugees?"
Since Germany's migration crisis exploded in August 2015, nationwide sales of pepper spray have jumped by 600%, according to the German newsmagazine, Focus. Supplies of the product are now completely sold out in many parts of the country and additional stocks will not become available until 2016. "Manufacturers and distributors say the huge influx of foreigners in recent weeks has apparently frightened many people," Focus reports.
According to KH Security, a German manufacturer of self-defense products, demand is up by a factor of five, and sales in September 2015 — the month when the implications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy began to dawn on many Germans — were the highest since the company was founded 25 years ago. The company says there is an increased demand not only for self-defense weapons, but also for home alarm systems.
Another manufacturer of self-defense products, the Frankfurt-based company DEF-TEC Defense Technology, has reported a 600% increase in sales this fall. According to CEO Kai Prase:
"Things took off beginning in September. Since then, our dealers have been totally overrun. We have never experienced anything like this in the 21 years of our corporate history. Fear: This is not rational. The important term is: 'refugee crisis.'"
The same story is being repeated across Germany. According to the public broadcaster, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, citizens in Saxony can regularly be seen queuing up in large numbers waiting for gun shops to open.
A store owner in the Saxon town of Pirna said he is now selling up to 200 cans of pepper spray each day, compared to five cans a week before the migrant crisis began. He said he is seeing many new customers who are not the typical clientele, including women of all ages and men who are buying weapons for their wives.
Günter Fritz, the owner of a gun shop in Ebersbach, another town in Saxony, told RTL News, "Since September, all over Germany, also at my shop, sales of self-defense products have exploded." He added that his clients come from all walks of life, ranging "from the professor to the retired lady. All are afraid."
Andreas Reinhardt, a gun shop owner in the northern German town of Eutin, said he now sells four to five self-defense weapons each day, compared to around two per month before the recent influx of asylum seekers. "The current social upheaval is clearly driving the current rush to self-defense," he said. "I never thought that fear would spread so quickly," he added.
Eric Thiel, the owner of a gun shop in Flensburg, a city on the Baltic Sea coast, said that pepper spray is no longer available: "Everything is sold out. New supplies will not arrive until March. Everything that has to do with self-defense is booming enormously."
Wolfgang Mayer, the owner of a gun shop in Nördlingen, a town in Bavaria, said he has an explanation for the surge in gun licenses: "I think with the influx of refugees, the rise in break-ins and the many tricksters, the people are demanding greater protection."
Mayer added that there is a growing sense within German society that the state cannot adequately protect its citizens and therefore they have to better protect themselves. "Since the summer, sales of pepper spray have increased by 50%," Mayer said, adding that buyers are mainly women, of all ages — from the student in the city up to the widowed grandmother.
Pepper spray and other types of non-lethal self-defense weapons are legal in Germany, but a permit is required to carry and use some categories of them. Officials in all of Germany's 16 federal states are reporting a spike in applications for such permits, known as the small weapons license (kleinen Waffenschein).
In the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, nearly 10,000 people now hold a small weapons license, an "all-time record level," according to the regional interior ministry. Retailers in the state are also reporting an "unprecedented surge" in sales of self-defense weapons, with supplies of pepper spray sold out until the spring of 2016.
In Saxony, retailers are reporting an unprecedented boom in sales of pepper spray, tear gas, gas pistols and even cross bows. Some stores are now selling more self-defense weapons in one day than they did in an entire month before the migrant crisis began.
Saxon officials are also reporting a jump in the number of people applying for the full-fledged firearms license (großen Waffenschein). The rush to arms can be attributed to a "subjective decline in the people's sense of security," Saxon Interior Minister Markus Ulbig said.
In Berlin, the number of people holding a small weapons license increased by 30% during the first ten months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, while the number of those holding the full-fledged firearms license jumped by some 50%, according to local police.
In Bavaria, more than 45,000 people now hold a small weapons license, 3,000 more than in 2014. This represents a "significant increase," according to the regional interior ministry. As in other parts of Germany, Bavarian retailers are also reporting a boom in sales of self-defense weapons, including gas pistols, flare guns and pepper spray.
In Stuttgart, the capital city of Baden-Württemberg, local gun shops are reporting a four-fold increase in sales of self-defense weapons since August. One shop owner said she now sells more weapons in one week than she normally sells in one month. She added that she has never seen such high demand.
In Heilbronn, another city in Baden-Württemberg, local officials report that sales of pepper spray have doubled in 2015. According to one shopkeeper, the demand for pepper spray began surging in August, when many mothers started purchasing the product for their school-aged daughters. "Our clients are extremely afraid," the shopkeeper said. "We are seeing this everywhere."
In Gera, a city in Thuringia, local media reported that at one store, the entire inventory of 120 cans of pepper spray was sold out within three hours. The store, which subsequently sold out of another batch of 144 cans, is now on a waiting list to obtain more because of supplier shortfalls.
A woman in Gera who bought pepper spray for her 16-year-old daughter said:
"I think it is fundamentally proper for me to protect my daughter. She is at that age where she is out alone in the evening. If she says she needs this for protection, I think this is not unjustified. Of course, due to the current situation that we now have in Germany. We just do not know who is here. There are quite a lot of people who are not registered."
The same trend toward self-defense is being repeated in the German states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia, where spiraling levels of violent crime perpetrated by migrants is turning some neighborhoods into no-go zones.
Apologists for mass migration are accusing German citizens of overreacting. Some point to recent studies — commissioned by pro-migration groups — which claim, implausibly, that the number of crimes committed by migrants is decreasing, not increasing.
Others deny that the rush to self-defense has anything to do with migrants at all. They blame a variety of different factors, including the early darkness associated with the end of daylight savings time, the jihadist attacks in Paris (which occurred in November, three months after sales of self-defense weapons began to spike), and the need for protection from wild wolves in parts of northern Germany.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung described the deception this way:
"Anyone who asks for the reasons for the surge in weapons purchases encounters silence. Officially, the regulatory agencies say that anyone who applies for the small weapons license does not need to provide a justification and therefore the government offices have no explanation. 'But it is true that sometimes we clearly get the message that they are afraid because of the refugees,' says one, on condition that his name and office will not be mentioned in the newspaper. 'People have already told me: I want to protect my family.' We have reported this to the Ministry...
"The retailers also say nothing officially about the reasons for the increase in sales. Call a small gun shop. Many refugees arrived at the end of August, and since September the numbers are up, can there not be a connection? 'If you do not use my name: Sure, what else?' Says the man on the phone. The people who come to the store are afraid. They believe that among the refugees there are 'black sheep.' Some customers openly admit it."
Empirical evidence shows an indisputable nationwide spike in migrant-driven crime, including rapes of German women and girls on a shocking scale, as well as sexual and physical assaults, stabbings, home invasions, robberies, burglaries and drug trafficking.
The spike in violent crimes committed by migrants has been corroborated by a confidential police report leaked to a German newspaper. The document reveals that a record-breaking 38,000 asylum seekers were accused of committing crimes in the country in 2014. Analysts believe this figure — which works out to more than 100 crimes a day — is only a fragment: many crimes are not reported.
Not surprisingly, a new poll shows that 55% of Germans are pessimistic about the future, up from 31% in 2014 and 28% in 2013. The poll shows that 42% of those between the ages of 14 and 34 believe their future will be bleak; this is more than double the number of those (19%) who felt this way in 2013. At the same time, 64% of those aged 55 and above are fearful about the future.
The poll also shows that four-fifths (79%) of the German population believe the economy will deteriorate in 2016 due to the financial burdens created by the migration crisis, and 70% believe that member states of the European Union will drift further apart in the coming year. The most predictable finding of all: 87% of Germans believe their politicians will experience a decline in public support during 2016.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in early 2016.