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EU controls

Swiss gain special clause in gun agreement

European Union countries agreed on Friday on new measures to tighten gun controls in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris last year. Switzerland has gained a special clause to allow its militia army soldiers to keep their guns at home.

Although not an EU-member, the Swiss are obliged to follow the move as they have signed up to the cross-border Schengen agreement. This allows for passport-free travel within its 26 signatories, and thus potentially for the circulation of more firearms.

EU interior and justice ministers, among them Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, agreed at a meeting in Luxembourg on stricter rules on buying and owning semi-automatic weapons, as well action on stopping deactivated guns being put back into use and better tracing of trafficked weapons.

Semi-automatic weapons that can easily be converted to deadlier fully automatic mode would be prohibited. Tighter controls would also be placed on internet gun sales.

High-powered assault weapons were among the arms used in the attacks in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015 and the attacks on November 13 that year in which 130 people were killed.

Right balance

The EU presidency has however struggled to strike the right balance between cracking down enough and avoiding impeding hunters and sport shooters.

There was great controversy in Switzerland surrounding the original proposal, mooted earlier this year, concerning the clause on semi-automatic rifles, as it would have affected all those in the Swiss militia army who opt to take their army issue guns home after official duty – just over 10% of all conscripts. In March Sommaruga gave assurances that Switzerland wouldn’t be affected.

“At that point the original agreement was very controversial,” the Swiss minister said at a media conference after the meeting on Friday.

The text was subsequently revised but the new version could have caused the Swiss problems as well. The Swiss representative is said to have lobbied hard for a change.

Swiss clause

This has resulted in a special clause for Switzerland in the new EU law, which guarantees that militia army members can take their guns home after service. This is allowed for countries where this tradition has existed for more than 50 years, the text says.

People who take firearms home should be subject to periodic checks by public authorities to ensure they do not represent at risk for public security, it adds.

The whole agreement still needs the approval of the EU parliament.

Sommaruga said she was satisfied with the text. “We said clearly from the beginning that keeping the military rifle after army service was a tradition in Switzerland and one that we wanted to keep,” she explained.

Switzerland is one of the last countries in Western Europe with mandatory military service. Under the Swiss constitution, every able-bodied male Swiss citizen has to serve in the Swiss militia army from the age of 18. Exceptions are allowed for those opting for civilian service.

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