Parliament opposes ban on storing arms at home

Parliament remains divided over whether guns should be stored at the barracks or at home Keystone

Proposals to break with the longstanding tradition of storing army weapons in Swiss homes have been dismissed by the country's parliament.

This content was published on March 17, 2009 - 08:35

Monday's debate in the House of Representatives was the latest in series of discussions over gun law issues over the past few years.

Legislators threw out an initiative, supported mainly by centre-left parliamentarians, which would have forced members of Switzerland's militia army to keep their rifles at army bases instead of storing them in households.

Ninety-nine parliamentarians came out against a proposed ban, while 82 were in favour. The chamber also threw out a similar non-binding petition launched by students in the wake a 2007 killing of teenager by a soldier outside Zurich.

However, politicians narrowly approved calls by a Green Party representative for the creation of a central arms registry.

Members of the Swiss army are issued with rifles and 50 rounds of ammunition. They keep their firearms after completing military training and take regular refresher courses to be ready for a call to arms in times of crisis.

However, two years ago, parliament moved to outlaw the keeping of army-issue magazines in households, except for the about 2,000 specialist troops.

Safety before tradition

"How many more people have to die until parliament is ready to disarm the households," asked Chantal Galladé, a parliamentarian of the centre-left Social Democrats, who championed the proposal.

Ida Glanzmann, a Christian Democrat, pointed out that safety came before tradition. She welcomed the storage of ammunition in arsenals as a first step in the right direction.

"The central storage of weapons can save lives," she said on behalf of several members of a centre-right group.

Anti-gun campaigners argue that weapons at home are a serious safety risk. Experts say guns play a central role in suicides and family conflicts. About 300 people in Switzerland are killed every year by standard-issue weapons, according to official statistics.

There has been a series of highly publicised cases of murders with army weapons over the past decade, beginning with an attack by a gunman on a cantonal parliament in central Switzerland, in 2001.


The centre-right and rightwing majority in the house said the decommissioning army rifles was tantamount to undermining Switzerland's security and would represent a vote of no confidence in its soldiers.

"Don't blame the weapon. It's the man who commits weapons abuses," said Andrea Geissbühler of the Swiss People's Party. "There is no need for the state to patronise its citizens."

In a similar vein, Corina Eichenberger of the centre-right Radicals said citizens should take responsibility. But she also called for soldiers to be allowed to store their army weapons at barracks on a voluntary basis.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said the government wanted to maintain the tradition in principle. He added that moves were underway to increase efforts to prevent abuses and facilitate the storage of individual weapons at barracks.

The Senate, Switzerland's other parliamentary chamber, backed the government in a debate two weeks ago. Voters will have the final say on a possible ban of storing personal army-issue weapons at home.

A broad alliance of centre-left political parties, unions, church and peace groups, as well as women's, health and human rights organisations collected enough signatures for a nationwide ballot on the issue.

The people's initiative was handed in to the authorities last month and will come to a vote at a later date.

In brief

Moves to reform the gun tradition are also underway outside parliament.

In February, an alliance of centre-left parties, pacifists, unions and church groups handed in enough signatures for a nationwide vote aimed at banning army-issue weapons at home. No date for the ballot has yet been set.

A women's magazine and arts students also launched separate, non-binding petitions over the past few years, aimed at keeping weapons away from homes.

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Guns in households

Estimates of the number of firearms in circulation in Switzerland range between 1.2 million to 2.3 million.

Army-issue weapons are said to be involved in the deaths of more than 300 people in Switzerland every year.

Experts say 34% of suicides among men are due to firearms, compared with only 3.7% of female suicides.

An international survey, published last year, found that almost half of all suicides by Swiss youngsters were committed using a gun.

Swiss gun laws are among the most liberal worldwide. Most army weapons are stored at home.

Citizens in several cantons, including Geneva and Zurich, are allowed to take their personal army-issue firearm to the barracks for storage.

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