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A citizen practicing the yearly mandatory training.

Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. Switzerland does not have a standing army, instead opting for a people's militia for its national defense. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations; Switzerland thus has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world.[1] In recent times a minority of political opposition has expressed a desire for tighter gun regulations.[2] A referendum in February 2011 rejected stricter gun control.[3]

Army-issued arms[edit | edit source]

The Swiss army has long been a militia trained and structured to rapidly respond against foreign aggression. Swiss males grow up expecting to undergo basic military training, usually at age 20 in the Rekrutenschule (recruit school), the basic-training camp, after which Swiss men remain part of the "militia" in reserve capacity until age 30 (age 34 for officers). Each soldier is required to keep his army-issued personal weapon (the 5.56x45mm Sig 550 rifle for enlisted personnel and/or the 9mm SIG-Sauer P226semi-automatic pistol for officers, military police, medical and postal personnel) at home or (as of 2010) in the local armoury (Zeughaus). Up until October 2007, ammunition (50 rounds 5.56 mm / 48 rounds 9mm) was issued as well, which was sealed and inspected regularly to ensure that no unauthorized use had taken place.[4] The ammunition was intended for use while travelling to the army barracks in case of invasion.

In October 2007, the Swiss Federal Council decided that the distribution of ammunition to soldiers shall stop and that all previously issued ammo shall be returned. By March 2011, more than 99% of the ammo has been received. Only special rapid deployment units and the military police still store ammunition at home today.[5]

When their period of service has ended, militiamen have the choice of keeping their personal weapon and other selected items of their equipment.[citation needed] Keeping the weapon after end of service requires a license. The government sponsors training with rifles and shooting in competitions for interested adolescents, both male and female.

A "shooting society " somewhere in Switzerland; people come to such ranges to complete mandatory training with service arms, or to shoot for sport and competition.

A "shooting society" somewhere in Switzerland; people come to such ranges to complete mandatory training with service arms, or to shoot for sport and competition.

The sale of ammunition – including Gw Pat.90 rounds for army-issue assault rifles – is subsidized by the Swiss government and made available at the many shooting ranges patronized by both private citizens and members of the militia. There is a regulatory requirement that ammunition sold at ranges must be used there.[citation needed]

The Swiss Army maintains tight adherence to high standards of lawful military conduct. In 2005, for example, when the Swiss prosecuted recruits who had reenacted the torture scenes of Abu Ghraib, one of the charges was improper use of service weapons.[6]

Number of guns in circulation[edit | edit source]

In some 2001 statistics, it is noted that there are about 420,000 assault rifles (fully automatic, or "selective fire") stored at private homes, mostly SIG SG 550 models. Additionally, there are some 320,000 semi-auto rifles and military pistols exempted from military service in private possession, all selective-fire weapons having been converted to semi-automatic operation only. In addition, there are several hundred thousand other semi-automatic small arms classified as carbines. The total number of firearms in private homes is estimated minimally at 1.2 million to 3 million.[7][dead link]

In 2005 over 10% of households contained handguns, compared to 18% of U.S. households that contained handguns. In 2005 almost 29% of households in Switzerland contained firearms of some kind, compared to almost 43% in the USA.[8]

Buying guns[edit | edit source]

Conditions under the 1999 Gun Act[edit | edit source]

  • To purchase a firearm in a commercial shop, one needs to have a Waffenerwerbsschein (weapon acquisition permit). A permit allows the purchase of three firearms. Everyone over the age of 18 who is not psychiatrically disqualified (such as having had a history of endangering his own life or the lives of others) or identified as posing security problems, and who has a clean criminal record (requires a Criminal Records Bureau check) can request such a permit.[9]
  • To buy a gun from an individual, no permit is needed, but the seller is expected to establish a reasonable certainty that the purchaser will fulfill the above-mentioned conditions (usually done through a Criminal Records Bureau check). The participants in such a transaction are required to prepare a written contract detailing the identities of both vendor and purchaser, the weapon's type, manufacturer, and serial number. The law requires the written contract to be kept for ten years by the buyer and seller. The seller is also required to see some official ID from the purchaser, for such sales are only allowed to Swiss nationals and foreigners with a valid residence permit, with the exception of those foreigners that come from certain countries (Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Albania, Algeria), to whom such sales are not allowed even if they do have a residence permit. Foreigners without a residence permit must ask for Waffenerwerbsschein (weapon acquisition permit).[10]
  • After turning 18, any individual can buy singleshot or bolt-action long arms (breech-loading or muzzle-loading) without a permit (so-called "free arms").[citation needed] Likewise, members of a recognized rifle association do not need a buying permit for purchasing antique repeaters, and hunters do not need one for buying typical hunting rifles.[citation needed]
  • Basically, the sale of automatic firearms, selective fire weapons and certain accessories such as sound suppressors ("silencers") is forbidden (as is the sale of certain disabled automatic firearms which have been identified as easily restored to fully automatic capability). The purchase of such items is however legal with a special permit issued by cantonal police. The issuance of such a permit requires additional requirements to be met, e.g. the possession of a specific gun locker.[citation needed]
  • Most types of ammunition are available for commercial sale, including full metal jacket bullet calibres for military-issue weapons; hollow point rounds are only permitted for hunters. Ammunition sales are registered only at the point of sale by recording the buyer's name in a bound book.[citation needed]
  • Semi-automatic weapons are legal to purchase with a permit.

Changes due to the Schengen treaty[edit | edit source]

The rules laid out above were changed on 1 December 2008 as Switzerland joined the Schengen treaty; and all member countries must adapt some of their laws to a common standard. Following the draft of the Swiss government for the new Waffengesetz (weapons law), these points will change:

  • Unlawful possession of guns will be punished.
  • Gun trade among individuals will require a valid weapon acquisition permit. Weapons acquired from an individual in the last ten years (which did not require a weapon acquisition permit) have to be registered. As a central weapons register was politically unfeasible, the authorities hope to get an overview of the market through this registration requirement.
  • Every gun must be marked with a registered serial number.
  • Airsoft guns and imitations of real guns will also be governed by the new law.
  • While the above mentioned "free arms" remain exempt from the weapon acquisition permit, the vendor is required to notify the local arms bureau of the sale.

Storage of military-issued ammunition by militia members[edit | edit source]

Ready ammunition of the Swiss Army. Soldiers equipped with the Sig 550 assault rifle used to be issued 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed can, to be opened only upon alert and for use while en route to join their unit. This practice was stopped in 2007.[11]

Prior to 2007 members of the Swiss Militia were supplied with 50 rounds of ammunition for their military weapon in a sealed ammo box that was regularly audited by the government. This was so that, in the case of an emergency, the militia could respond quickly. However, since 2007 this practice has been discontinued. Only 2,000 specialist militia members (who protect airports and other sites of particular sensitivity) are permitted to keep their military-issued ammunition at home. The rest of the militia get their ammunition from their military armory in the event of an emergency.[11]

There is no restriction on members of the militia possessing personally-purchased ammunition capable of being used in their issued weapon, and such ammunition is readily available in shops and at many firing ranges.

Carrying guns[edit | edit source]

To carry a loaded firearm in public or outdoors (and for an individual who is a member of the militia carrying a firearm other than his Army-issue personal weapons off-duty), a person must have a Waffentragbewilligung (gun carrying permit), which in most cases is issued only to private citizens working in occupations such as security.[citation needed]

It is, however, quite common to see a person serving military service to be en route with his rifle.[citation needed]

Conditions for getting a Carrying Permit[edit | edit source]

There are three conditions:

  • fulfilling the conditions for buying a permit (see section above)
  • stating plausibly the need to carry firearms to protect oneself, other people, or real property from a specified danger
  • passing an examination proving both weapon handling skills and knowledge regarding lawful use of the weapon

The carrying permit remains valid for a term of five years (unless otherwise surrendered or revoked), and applies only to the type of firearm for which the permit was issued. Additional constraints may be invoked to modify any specific permit. Neither hunters nor game wardens require a carrying permit.[citation needed]

Transporting guns[edit | edit source]

Guns may be transported in public as long as an appropriate justification is present. This means to transport a gun in public, the following requirements apply:

  • The ammunition must be separated from the gun, no ammunition in a magazine.
  • The transport does not need to be direct but needs a valid purpose :
    • For courses or exercises hosted by marksmanship, hunting or military organisations,
    • To an army warehouse and back,
    • To show the gun to a friend or a possible buyer
    • To and from a holder of a valid arms trade permit,
    • To and from a specific event, i.e. gun shows.[12]

Recreational shooting[edit | edit source]

Recreational shooting is widespread in Switzerland. Practice with guns is a popular form of recreation, and is encouraged by the government, particularly for the members of the militia.[13] Swiss firearms-related rights are supported by the organization ProTell.

200,000 people attend the annual Feldschiessen weekend, which is the largest rifle shooting competition in the world.[4][14] In addition, there are several private shooting ranges which rent guns.

Black powder[edit | edit source]

A Swiss 100 gram black powder container.

In Swiss gun shops, people can freely purchase black powder and modern black powder substitutes for use in firing historical rifles. The buyer must inform the vendor as to his name and address.

Gun crime[edit | edit source]

Government statistics for the year 2010[15] records 40 homicides involving firearms, out of the 53 cases of homicide in 2010. The annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population was 0.70, which is one of the lowest in the world.[16] The annual rate of homicide by guns per 100,000 population was 0.52.[17]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies (2007-09). "Small Arms Survey 2007". Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-88039-8. http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/sas/publications/year_b_pdf/2007/CH2%20Stockpiles.pdf. 
  2. "De-Quilling the Porcupine: Swiss Mull Tighter Gun Laws". Der Spiegel. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,480545,00.html. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
  3. "Switzerland rejects tighter gun controls". 13 February 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12441834. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "What America can learn from Switzerland...", David Kopel, American Rifleman, February 1990
  5. "Taschenmunition fast vollständig eingezogen", Neue Zuercher Zeitung, May 2011
  6. – Article about Abu Ghraib reenactment in newspaper 20min (in German)
  7. Swiss Foreign and Security Policy Network document, Markus Steudler, 7 July 2004
  8. Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective, by the International Crime Victims Survey. See Table 18 on page 279.
  9. Request for a weapon acquisition permit, Federal Department of Justice and Police.
  10. Article 21 Swiss Arms Regulation
  11. 11.0 11.1 Soldiers can keep guns at home but not ammo, swissinfo.ch, 27 Sept 2007) [1] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Swiss-law-German" defined multiple times with different content
  12. Verordnung über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition (Waffenverordnung, WV)
  13. The long list of "Gun-control" myths, 5 January 1998
  14. "The World's Largest Rifle Shooting Match: Switzerland 1995", The 1996 Precision Shooting Annual, Precision Shooting, Inc., (1996)
  15. Switzerland. 2011. ‘Violent Infractions: Elucidations and Evolution of Infractions (Infractions de violence: Elucidations et Evolution des Infractions).’ Police Statistics on Crime Annual Report 2010 (Statistique Policière de la Criminalité Rapport Annuel 2010), p. 32. Neuchâtel: Office Fédéral de la Statistique / Département Fédéral de l'Intérieur. 1 January.
  16. 'Calculated Rates – Switzerland.’ Historical Population Data – USCB International Data Base. Suitland, MD: US Census Bureau Population Division. 1 April.
  17. Historical Population Data – USCB International Data Base. Suitland, MD: US Census Bureau Population Division. 1 April.

External links[edit | edit source]

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