Government seeks to tighten gun laws

There are about three million guns in circulation in the country

The Swiss government on Wednesday recommended to parliament that all gun owners must obtain a permit.

This content was published on January 11, 2006 - 16:23 and agencies

Bowing to resistance from lobby groups, the cabinet decided against a plan to create a central national weapons register.

The cabinet said it was opposed to the database on the grounds that the time and effort it would require would greatly outweigh the benefit.

If accepted by parliament, the amended law will bring Switzerland into line with the European Union's Schengen accord on cross-border crime, which Swiss voters agreed to sign up to last June.

The agreement, which removes border controls between signatory states, lays down minimum requirements for acquiring and possessing firearms.

The main change is that the previous distinction between retail and private purchases will no longer apply.

Both types of acquisition, as well as weapons obtained by inheritance, would have to be reported to a cantonal office.

Tagged before sale

Also part of the Schengen requirements, firearms must be tagged before sale, to aid police in criminal investigations involving weapons.

A reason must be given when applying for the permit but the buyer does not have to prove a need.

Hunters, sports shooters and collectors are exempt from giving a reason for purchase.

As soon as the accord comes into effect, unauthorised possession will be considered an infringement of the law.

The guidelines have a limited area of application and give the Swiss legislature a degree of flexibility.

Militia exempt

This means that the Schengen accord will have no effect on the Swiss militia, young people's shooting clubs, the right of soldiers to store their military rifles at home or the requirement that they return them when they leave the army.

Finally, Schengen will not affect hunting and shooting in Switzerland – national laws regarding such things as hunting permits, the hunting season and shooting events will still stand.

Switzerland has a strong gun lobby – the Swiss Shooting Association has 200,000 members – but its recent history of gun-ownership has been chequered.

In 2001 a gunman entered the cantonal parliament in Zug, killing 14 people before turning the gun on himself. All his firearms, including an army-issue assault rifle, were legally acquired.

The killings shocked a country with a higher per capita rate of gun ownership than the United States but comparatively little gun crime.

Key facts

According to current laws, an acquisition certificate is only necessary for the purchase of guns from a shop.

The new law will extend the law to private sales, as required by the Schengen accord.

The Schengen treaty on cross-border crime also forbids the possession of machine guns and grenades.

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