There are many guns to keep track of in Switzerland – especially in the army, where missing weapons have become a recurring problem.
Army officials said on Friday that 69 military weapons were reported permanently or temporarily lost last year, most of them stolen or misplaced as soldiers moved around the country.
Keeping military firearms at home is a long-standing tradition for the Swiss army, which is supposed to be ready for a call to arms in times of crisis. Losing a fraction of them seems to have become a lesser-known tradition – and one that poses some public safety risks.
Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world because of its militia army. The defence ministry estimates that some two million guns are in private hands in a population of 8.3 million.
Last year’s army losses include 52 army assault rifles and 17 pistols. However, 18 of the weapons were eventually found, the army said, confirming an article by Swiss newspaper Blick. That represents a significant drop from the 82 army weapons that went missing in 2015.
That brings the total number of weapons reported missing since 2009 up to 574, most of which were stolen either from militia soldiers’ homes or when they were moving around. The rest were either lost when people moved house, during military service or were destroyed in a fire.
Three years ago, the Swiss armed forces acknowledged it was still having trouble locating thousands of rifles and pistols issued to soldiers who had completed their compulsory service between 2006 and 2011.
Between 1969 and 2015, Army officials reported 5,155 weapons missing – but later recovered 317 of them. That makes for a recovery rate of around 6%.
Arms at home
All able-bodied Swiss men must do military service and have the option of keeping their army rifle at home. In 2016, the army distributed 18,896 weapons to new recruits.
The army rifle has to be kept in a burglar-proof location and any theft must be reported immediately, but missing weapons are usually only reported when the soldier has to go on military exercise or when he leaves the army and can’t find his gun.
Anti-gun campaigners have tried – and failed – on several occasions to ban military weapons from Swiss households.
In 2011, Swiss voters rejected a controversial initiative on restricting access to firearms. More than 56% were against the initiative, launched by a broad coalition of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, churches, pacifists and centre-left parties, which sought a central gun registry, a strict licensing system for the use of firearms, a ban on the purchase of automatic weapons and a ban on keeping army-issue guns at home.
A majority of cantons voted against the initiative. Support came from several mainly urban regions including Geneva, Basel and Zurich. Opposition was strongest in rural areas in eastern and central Switzerland as well as in the southern Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.
The government has introduced a series of other measures which it claims should tighten firearm safety, such as the exchange of information about gun owners between the Swiss police, army and justice authorities, which entered into force on July 1.