Swiss newspapers have generally welcomed voters’ decision to tighten the country’s gun law, bringing it into line with the European Union. However, they can’t agree what the result means for Swiss-EU relations.
On Sunday 63.7% of voters agreed that ownership of semi-automatic weapons will now require regular training on the use of firearms and a serial numbering of major parts of some guns to help track them.
“This is a remarkably high level of approval, as tightening gun laws in this country is otherwise extremely difficult,” noted the Tages-Anzeigerexternal link in Zurich, whose article was titled “A bad moment for opponents of Europe”.
“Voters clearly didn’t want to jeopardise important agreements with the EU for the sake of minor restrictions for the minority of people who shoot for sport, weapons collectors and gunsmiths. They weren’t intimidated by the bold warning that Switzerland would be disarmed: they came down on the side of security and freedom of movement, which the Schengenexternal link and Dublinexternal link agreements stand for.”
The government and most major political parties had warned that a rejection of the legal amendment would deny Swiss authorities access to a Europe-wide criminal database and lead to exclusion from a joint EU security system under the single border Schengen agreement.
Supporters had also argued that the government had won the necessary concessions from the EU respecting Switzerland’s tradition of self-defence and national identity that includes a well-armed citizenry.
“The welcome foreign policy signal, which will hopefully also be received in Brussels, is that Switzerland is perfectly ready to fit into the European context. But only on condition that it can adapt new EU regulations to its specificities and legitimise them in a direct democratic process. This is central, especially with regard to a framework agreement with the EU.”
Bern and Brussels are currently struggling to agree on an institutional framework deal for future ties.
‘No valid arguments’
Tabloid Blick welcomed the result but stressed that it was “not a yes to Europe”.
“There were simply no valid reasons against it!” the paper concluded in its editorialexternal link.
“Voters recognised that Switzerland had found a sensible solution with the EU which allows exceptions for shooting as a sport and for the militia army.”
Blick said the Swiss had weighed up a “possibly tedious administrative measure” that affects a few people and the far-reaching consequences that would have affected the whole country had the result gone the other way. “Switzerland’s membership in Schengen/Dublin would have been jeopardised,” it noted.
“Nevertheless, the clear yes to the gun law should not be interpreted as yes to European politics. Switzerland’s future relationship with the EU will be decided in the debate on a framework agreement and the Swiss People’s Party’s initiative to end free movement with the EU,” it said.
“Unlike the pro-gun lot, the sceptics of these two dossiers certainly have valid arguments.”
“The Swiss prefer Schengen to guns” was the headline in Le Tempsexternal link in Lausanne. French-speaking Switzerland voted above the national average in favour of the reforms.
“The revision of the weapons law presented a danger: that of mobilising every single patriot against a more restrictive law imposed from the outside and without any real need on a nation of responsible citizen-soldiers. Fortunately, this simplistic vision did not convince,” the paper said in an editorialexternal link.
A broad alliance of gun clubs, militia army officers, hunters and collectors, supported by the political right, had tried to overturn the decision by parliament last year that they claimed was dictated by the EU and would lead to the disarming of Switzerland.
“With the two results this Sunday [voters also accepted a reform of corporate tax rules], the Swiss have twice expressed their confidence in the way the authorities conduct our relations with the countries around us,” Le Temps said.
“Above all, [voters] confirmed a peaceful vision of a Switzerland where the fierce will of independence often struck a pose, while the real country is intertwined and involved in international governance. A Switzerland ultimately at ease with its interdependence.”