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Gun laws

Tighter Swiss gun checks to enter into force

A new system to improve the exchange of information about gun owners between the Swiss police, army and justice authorities will enter into force on July 1, the cabinet announced on Friday.

It will then become mandatory for courts and prosecutors to highlight potentially dangerous cases to the armed forces, which could take away a person’s weapons if necessary. Information about the specific threats posed by the individual may be stored in a common database.

As part of measures to tighten firearm safety, independent cantonal gun registers will also be linked up to facilitate coordinated online searches. Other records are kept by the Federal Office of Police and by the armed forces.

Civil and military authorities will be informed immediately about gun permits which have been withdrawn or refused.

But the recent firearm revisions do not go as far as police forces would have liked.

In September 2015, parliament rejected the idea of registering older guns. It agreed that a firearm acquired by a Swiss citizen before 2008 would not have to be recorded in a cantonal gun register. At the moment, only guns acquired after 2008 have to be included.

In 2011, voters rejected a proposal to restrict access to guns by banning the purchase of automatic weapons and introducing a licensing system for the use of firearms.

There are an estimated two million firearms in circulation in Switzerland, of which an estimated 750,000 have been recorded. Under the militia system, soldiers keep their army-issue weapons at home.

Gun-related deaths

According to figures published by the Federal Statistical Office in December 2010, the number of deaths by firearms had dropped constantly in Switzerland since the turn of the century. From 466 in 1998, it fell to 259 in 2008.

Mass killings are rare in Switzerland despite the large number of available weapons. The worst case happened in September 2001, when 14 people were shot inside Zug’s cantonal parliament. 

If reports of gun violence are relatively few and far between in the Swiss media, it is because most cases are suicides, a subject the press traditionally avoids. In 1998, 413 people killed themselves with a firearm, a figure that dropped to 239 in 2008, even though the number of suicides remained stable. Switzerland’s gun suicide rate is only second to the United States. 

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