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In photos Switzerland, a nation of gun lovers

Shooting is a favourite leisure sport in Switzerland. Its roots date back to the late Middle Ages, but especially the 19th century when shooting became an important part of national identity. But gun lovers fear a new weapons law could spoil their fun.

Swiss shooters and hunters fear that the European weapons directive being put to the vote on May 19 could jeopardise their hobby, even though Bern has managed to negotiate some concessions from Brussels, particularly on army weapons.

Widespread passion

If you have been for a walk in Switzerland you may well have passed near a shooting range or found a civilian with a rifle hanging over his shoulder.

Many Swiss are passionate shooters, and some 130,000 people are registered in the shooting clubs alone. They regard the sporting use of firearms as part of national tradition. Legend has it that the national hero William Tell freed the Swiss from the tyrant Gessler by shooting at a target.

In fact, marksmanship has a close connection to the foundation of the modern Swiss nation-state at the beginning of the 19th century. From the Napoleonic period onwards, marksmen's clubs were very popular. The first Federal Shooting Festival was held in Aarau in 1824. In the following years these festivals and the shooting clubs became an important social space for the nascent liberal movement.

After the emergence of the federal state in 1848 and the introduction of compulsory military service - members of the army also had to complete compulsory shooting exercises outside their service time - new shooting ranges were created throughout the country.

From soldier to leisure shooter

The (male) armed citizen became part of the identity of the young liberal state. Shooting clubs were assigned the task of organizing obligatory shooting exercises for soldiers. This created a strong link between the military and civilian culture of arms.

Even if the typical Swiss republican link between citizen and soldier dwindled in the last decades of the 20th century, the passion for weapons remains widespread in Swiss society to this day. Nevertheless, fewer and fewer ex-soldiers want to keep their service weapons with them even after their service in the armed forces has ended.

All photos in the gallery were taken between 2016 and 2017.

in depth

Vote May 19, 2019

Swiss voters will decide on a proposed reform of the gun law and on a corporate tax reform that is linked to extra funding for the old age pension scheme.

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SWI swissinfo.ch on Instagram

SWI swissinfo.ch on Instagram

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