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Gunman uses army rifle in hotel shooting

Easy access: Swiss men keep their military rifles, as used in the shooting in Baden, at home Keystone

A 26-year-old Swiss has killed one man and injured four others, one critically, after opening fire with his army assault rifle in a Swiss hotel.

This content was published on April 13, 2007 - 16:35

The latest in a series of fatalities involving army weapons – which all able-bodied Swiss men have to keep at home with ammunition – will add fuel to the heated political debate over reforming the country's gun laws.

The man was subdued and arrested by police after the shooting on Thursday evening in the northern city of Baden, canton Aargau.

Police said the gunman, who worked in a bank in Zurich, entered the La Capella hotel and opened fire on two boys, one 15 and one 16, who were sitting in the hotel's restaurant with their parents.

The 16-year-old was still reported to be in a critical condition with at least two stomach wounds on Sunday. The 15-year-old was hit in the upper arm and grazed on his abdomen and is said to be out of danger.

The gunman then aimed at the people at the bar. A 71-year-old man died immediately from four shots to the head. A 59-year-old man suffered graze wounds to his stomach and upper arm, and another man, aged 50, admitted himself to hospital with a stomach wound.

The gunman, who like all his victims was from Baden, only stopped shooting when he had used up all 20 shots in the magazine of his military rifle.

"It was fortunate that we didn't have an even greater catastrophe and that the man didn't have more than the one magazine," said Urs Winzenried, head of Aargau cantonal police.

Winzenried said it was not immediately clear what had caused the man to start shooting.

Tradition

The latest in a series of shootings involving army weapons – in March a man shot his girlfriend in southeastern Switzerland – will undoubtedly be picked up by political parties who are demanding reforms to Switzerland's gun laws.

All able-bodied Swiss men aged 20-30 are conscripted for about three months and issued with a rifle, to be used only in the event of an alert.

After initial training, conscripts are required to do three or four weeks of army service a year until they have served a total of 260 days or reached the age of 34. Throughout this time they keep their rifles and 50 rounds of ammunition at home.

On Friday various organisations and centre-left parties said they would announce on May 25 whether they would launch a people's initiative to ban such weapons in households.

At the end of March parliament refused to tighten the gun law, including having a central arms register.

Although anti-gun arguments and demands could gain majority support among voters, especially women and younger people, they have a tough time in parliament where they face a formidable gun lobby, which puts pressure on the centre-right parties in particular.

Bad record

Switzerland has an unenviable record when it comes to murders involving army weapons.

Five years ago Switzerland was shocked when a gunman shot and killed 14 people in Zug's cantonal parliament with his army rifle, before turning the gun on himself.

In the first half of 2006 there were at least six incidents where a man shot his wife or partner before turning the gun on himself. In a highly publicised case the husband of former women's ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet killed her and her brother and seriously injured her mother with his army pistol before killing himself.

In September 2006 the government said family tragedies and suicides were not valid reasons to stop soldiers from keeping their army weapons at home.

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, argued that Switzerland's militia army needed to be able to mobilise rapidly, "for example to protect airports and railway stations".

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Debate on the use of firearms was fuelled in April 2006 when the husband of a former women's ski champion, Corinne Rey-Bellet, killed his wife and her brother with his army pistol.

In June 2006 the Senate came out in favour of slightly stricter rules for purchasing and keeping firearms but a significant tightening of the law was not on the table.

The reform of the gun law aims to bring regulations in line with the EU's open border policy, which Switzerland will be joining in the near future.

However, there is no provision for a central arms register or restrictions for standard issue army firearms.

On Sunday the head psychiatrist with the Swiss army in a newspaper called for psychological tests for militia army members to reduce the risk of gun attacks.

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Key facts

There are an estimated 1.6 to 2 million firearms in circulation in Switzerland.
About a third of all murder cases involve private guns and army weapons.
Army weapons are used in two-thirds of suicides, according to a recent study.

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