A firearm acquired by a Swiss citizen before 2008 will not have to be recorded in a cantonal gun register, parliament has agreed. An estimated two million guns are currently in circulation in Switzerland.
On Thursday, the Senate followed the House of Representatives in refusing a government proposal to introduce mandatory gun registration for all firearms, including those acquired before December 2008. At the moment, only guns acquired after 2008 have to be included in cantonal registries.
There are an estimated two million firearms in circulation in Switzerland, of which an estimated 750,000 have been recorded. Under the militia system soldiers keep their army-issue weapons at home.
Supporters of mandatory gun registration had argued that the police had been calling for this simple measure to increase firearm safety.
“In Switzerland we register cars. It is odd not to do it for guns whose primary aim is to kill. It would allow us to save lives and avoid family shootings,” said Green Party senator Luc Recordon.
But critics said complete safety was impossible and no one planning to use a gun illegally would ever consider registering it. They also argued that such a measure would create unnecessary bureaucracy.
“Only six cantons (out of 26) have called for the registration of old guns,” said Christian Democrat senator Brigitte Häberli-Koller. “The administrative burden will be considerable.”
But the Senate, like the House of Representatives, on Thursday agreed to improve the exchange of information about weapons between police, the army and the justice authorities. It will be mandatory to highlight potentially dangerous cases to the armed forces, which could take away a person’s weapons if necessary.
Currently, the cantons operate their own independent registers. From now on, these will have to be linked up to facilitate coordinated online searches. Other records are kept by the Federal Police Office and by the armed forces.
In 2011, voters rejected a proposal to restrict access to guns by banning the purchase of automatic weapons and introducing a licensing system for the use of firearms.
According to figures published by the Federal Statistical Office in December 2010, shortly before the gun control vote, 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. The last major shooting took place on January 2, when three people were killed and two injured in the village of Daillon, canton Valais, by a man who wanted to, in his own words, “deal with a family problem”.
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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