Gun issue remains controversial

A memorial has been made for the Zug victims Keystone

Parliament has been discussing changes to Swiss gun laws exactly five years after the country's worst shooting incident.

This content was published on September 27, 2006

But observers warn the changes, which will bring Switzerland in line with European Union guidelines and which were approved by the Senate in June, are unlikely to prevent future gun attacks.

The EU's Schengen accord on cross-border crime lays down minimum requirements for acquiring and possessing firearms. Swiss voters agreed to sign up to the agreement last year and it is due to come into force in the country in the near future.

However, questions have already been raised within the EU as to the usefulness of the guidelines.

EU regulations on guns require the authorities in its member states to approve weapons purchases.

But acquisitions of sport and hunting guns may be announced after purchase, which is how a young man in Antwerp, Belgium was able to purchase a weapon and randomly kill two people during a racist shooting spree earlier this year.

Switzerland has also had its share of shooting incidents. Exactly five years ago, a gunman shot and killed 14 people in Zug's cantonal parliament, before turning the gun on himself.

He used his army rifle – under the country's militia system Swiss men are allowed to store their army guns at home. The killings shocked a country which until then had seen little gun crime.

Church bells rang throughout the canton of Zug on Wednesday at midday in remembrance and a commemorative service was held in the city in the evening.

The issue of gun safety came to the fore again earlier this year when a retired Swiss ski star, Corinne Rey-Bellet, was killed by her estranged husband with his army pistol.

EU regulations

The EU regulations only set down the minimum requirements. Some member states, such as Britain, have already imposed their own tougher rules.

The Swiss amendments tighten existing legislation only slightly. They include introducing a mandatory permit for purchasing or keeping all types of firearms, which is not at present necessary for all weapons. The move still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives.

The law also foresees a ban on anonymous sales through the internet or small ads, and an obligation to report sales between private individuals.


"This is a clear improvement," said Jürg Bühler, from the Federal Police Office. "Gun deals among private people that used to take place quickly and informally at motorway service stations will clearly be illegal in the future."

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

"A gun which is used to shoot a wild boar can also kill a person," said Bühler. But he added that statistically seen not many hunting guns were used in crimes. "Swiss legislators have therefore decided here to make a less complex rule."

Attempts to toughen the law even further were stifled by resistance from the powerful gun lobby. Government and parliament did not want to give the organisations a reason to fight the Schengen referendum. In the end, only a small part of the pressure group opposed the treaty.

The Belgian gun lobby is also strong and well organised, but the country has been deeply shocked by the Antwerp shootings. The Belgian parliament has already put a stop to the easy purchase of hunting guns.

It is now targeting the country's estimated two million unregistered guns. This is acknowledged to be a vital step.


Key facts

The House of Representatives on Wednesday decided by 86 votes to 83 against forbidding so-called "pump action" or repeater shotguns.
Two motions from the centre-left Social Democratic Party to link the purchase of weapons with a proven need and for the minimum age of applying for a firearm certificate to be raised from 18 to 21 were turned down.
Debate on the controversial issue of keeping army weapons and ammunition at home has been put off until a later date.
The Senate came out in favour of slightly stricter rules for purchasing and keeping firearms in June.

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Private gun stores

No exact figures exist for EU gun ownership. The Geneva-based group, the Small Arms Survey, estimates that there are around 67 million firearms in the 15 original members of the EU.

The Finns are the most heavily armed at 30 guns per 100 inhabitants, followed by the French and the Germans. The Dutch have only two guns per 100 inhabitants.

Switzerland, with 16 guns per 100 inhabitants, is in the middle. If army rifles were taken into account, the country could be considered one of the most heavily armed, with two million private and military guns in existence.

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