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Swiss guns

Soldiers prefer to keep guns at home than in barracks

The vast majority of Swiss militia soldiers prefer to store their weapons at home rather than at a local military base. The government introduced this option in 2010 to improve firearm safety.

As of the end of June 2016, only 789 army guns out of a total of 170,000 in circulation (0.5%) had been handed in to special military arsenals, Swiss army spokesman Christoph Brunner told the Neue Luzerner Zeitung and St Galler Tagblatt on Thursday.

Keeping military firearms at home is a long-standing tradition for the Swiss militia army, which is supposed to be ready for a call to arms in times of crisis.

However, since the beginning of 2010, members of the Swiss army have the option of storing their rifles, pistols and other weapons free of charge at arsenals or military barracks when they are not doing their military service.

The defence ministry said soldiers had been interested initially but this had waned over the past two years.

Canton Geneva handed in the most guns – 160 – and with canton Vaud launched a promotional campaign in 2013 following concerns among the local population. In other cantons levels varied considerably, such as Zurich (129), Bern (101), Jura (4) and Uri (1). An intercantonal group estimated that some 25,000 military guns could be stored at barracks.

Gun restriction attempts

All able-bodied Swiss men must do military service and have the option of keeping their army rifle at home. This has to be kept in a burglar-proof location and any theft must be reported immediately, but missing weapons are usually only reported when the soldier has to go on military exercise or when he leaves the army and can’t find his gun.

Anti-gun campaigners have tried – and failed – on several occasions to ban military weapons from Swiss households.

In 2011, Swiss voters rejected a controversial initiative on restricting access to firearms. More than 56% were against the initiative, launched by a broad coalition of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, churches, pacifists and centre-left parties, which sought a central gun registry, a strict licensing system for the use of firearms, a ban on the purchase of automatic weapons and a ban on keeping army-issue guns at home.

A majority of cantons voted against the initiative. Support came from several mainly urban regions including Geneva, Basel and Zurich. Opposition was strongest in rural areas in eastern and central Switzerland as well as in the southern Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

The government has introduced a series of other measures which it claims should tighten firearm safety, such as the exchange of information about gun owners between the Swiss police, army and justice authorities, which entered into force on July 1.

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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