Entrenched views prevail in Swiss gun debate

Window shopping outside a Zurich gun shop Keystone

Ahead of the vote on banning army-issue firearms from households, indignation is the order of the day in the comments from’s international readers.

This content was published on February 1, 2011 - 09:20
Clare O’Dea,

The February 13 vote has sparked the most interest from United States-based readers, probably the country where the debate has the most resonance. After a controversial ban on privately held firearms in Belgium, the issue is also a sore point there.

The views of contributors to feedback may not be scientifically representative but the arguments are reflective of how emotional many people feel about guns.

The feedback on the English-language site is overwhelmingly against the introduction of a ban on storing army weapons at home, citing tradition, personal safety and national security as the main arguments.  

As one US contributor puts it: “Why are the Swiss so enthusiastic about destroying so many of their traditions these past few weeks? If this rush to disarmament continues, Swiss citizens may awake one morning to find that an airborne army has taken control of their country.”  


Leaving aside defence against potential military invasion, many feedback posters make the point that the presence of these guns is a deterrent against crime in general. Taking them away will give “free reign” to criminals. 

A Belgian contributor on’s French-language site draws parallels between his country and Switzerland.  

“As in my country, you are told that armed citizens are a danger to society. Therefore the good politicians of the left (in a majority in Belgium) will save you from this danger by banning the possession of arms... But rest assured, robbers will still find AK-47s for €300 to clean you out.” 

But what about the enemy within? Experts say guns play a central role in suicides and family conflicts. About 300 people in Switzerland are killed every year by army-issue weapons, according to official statistics. 

“There is no doubt that removing guns from the home would reduce the gun deaths in Switzerland and that's what matters. So what we are talking about here is balancing lives against protecting a tradition. In my view, no contest,” writes one regular contributor on the English-language site. 

Battle of the sexes

Many other readers vehemently disagree with the argument that restricting access to guns in the home will reduce suicide and domestic killings.  

“Just because a tiny minority… misuse their weapons, all gun owners are being tarred with the same brush,” writes one reader on the German-language site.  

“What strikes me in particular is that mistrust between the sexes is being stoked by this populist campaign. A step backwards. Every husband with a gun in the safe is a potential rapist or family murderer? Surely that cannot be?”  

Could this be pride speaking? According to one contributor from Germany, “Men feel personally attacked, their honour is at stake.”

A poll carried out in January by the gfs.bern research institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation found supporters of the initiative had the edge with 52 per cent while 39 per cent intended to vote against it.

However the survey showed a striking difference in stance on the initiative between male and female voters – a discrepancy of 24 per cent, the highest recorded by the institute on any issue in a decade of research.   

Apart from the Europe-US comment, there is little interest in the pros and cons of gun ownership from readers elsewhere. Readers of’s Arabic, Chinese and Japanese sites have been notable for their silence on the subject.  

People are the problem

As for guns and suicide, access to a firearm is not seen as the problem by most contributors. One repeat post from the US reminds readers that “trying to stop suicides by banning guns is like trying to stop obesity by banning ice cream”.

Of course both sides can cite analogies for their purpose. As one Irish contributor puts it: “Wanting to keep guns at home is like wanting to drive at 200km per hour, or wanting to ride a bike without a helmet. I like the wild side as much as anybody, but I accept that society is trying to mature.”

A subscriber to’s official Facebook page points out that taking the guns away will not reduce the number of suicides, “it will only make those determined to end their life choose something else to kill themselves...”

Rather than restrict possession of firearms across the board, readers against the initiative argue for better monitoring and treatment for those suffering from mental illness.

In the interests of balance, the final word is shared by two heartfelt pleas from either side of the debate .

From the German-language site: “If only one life per year is saved through it [the initiative], it is already worth it in my eyes.”

From the US: “Please do not fall into the trap of surrendering your gun rights. These freedoms will never return and you will have permanently lost a big part of what makes free Swiss society as uniquely special as your country's natural beauty.”  

The initiative

The initiative was launched by an alliance of more than 70 NGOs and is backed by centre-left political parties.

It aims to introduce a strict licensing system for the use of firearms and seeks a ban on the purchase of automatic weapons and pump action shotguns. 

It also demands the creation of a central register for firearms, instead of a cantonal system. 

Members of the militia army could no longer store their army-issue guns at home but would have to take them to an arsenal.

Centre-left and some centre-right parties are backing the initiative, while a majority in parliament as well as the government have come out against.

Swiss voters will have the final say on the issue on February 13.

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Guns in Households

Estimates of the number of firearms in circulation in Switzerland range between 1.2 million and 2.3 million.

Army-issue weapons are said to be involved in the deaths of more than 300 people in Switzerland every year.

Experts say 34% of suicides among men are due to firearms, compared with only 3.7% of female suicides.

An international survey, published last year, found that almost half of all suicides by Swiss youngsters were committed using a gun.

Swiss gun laws are among the most liberal worldwide. Most army weapons are stored at home.

Citizens in several cantons, including Geneva and Zurich, are allowed to take their personal army-issue firearm to the barracks for storage.

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