Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid says family tragedies and suicides are not valid reasons to stop soldiers from keeping their army weapons at home.This content was published on September 2, 2006 - 18:31
Schmid rejected calls for the weapons to be kept in military storage to reduce Switzerland's high rate of suicide by firearms.
In an interview in Saturday's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper of Zurich, Schmid said storing soldiers' rifles away from their homes "would not solve the underlying social problem" of suicide.
"The army is not responsible for the problems in our society," he commented.
"A person who wants to kill himself or others will always find a way."
Schmid argued that Switzerland's militia army needed to be able to mobilize rapidly, "for example to protect airports and railway stations quickly".
Researchers at Zurich University published a study last Tuesday showing that every day one person in Switzerland commits suicide with a firearm, usually a military weapon.
They claimed that tighter gun laws would lead to fewer suicides involving firearms in Switzerland.
High suicide rates
The data, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed that Switzerland and the United States have the world's highest suicide rate involving firearms.
The researchers blamed the situation on the countries' liberal gun ownership laws.
By contrast, Australia and Canada significantly reduced the rate of suicides involving guns in the late 1980s by limiting the availability of guns in private households.
Following the publication of the report, left-wing politicians called for all military weapons to be securely stored outside soldiers' homes.
Schmid told the Tages Anzeiger that the data in the study would be evaluated and compared with data collected by the army.
"I can assure you that the government is serious about hindering the misuse of weapons in civil and military areas," he said.
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, the conscripts are required to do three or four weeks of army service every 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.
swissinfo with agencies
There are about two million firearms in circulation in Switzerland.
The number of suicides is close to 1,500 a year. Suicide accounts for more deaths than car accidents, drugs and Aids together.
Among those demanding tighter laws are Amnesty International, the Swiss Peace Council, the Victims of Violence Forum, the Stop Suicide Association, Ipsilon (the Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide in Switzerland) and the Swiss Society of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.
Debate on the use of firearms was fuelled in April when the husband of a former women's ski champion, Corinne Rey Bellet, killed his wife and her brother with his army pistol.
The Senate – the chamber that represents Switzerland's cantons – came out in favour of slightly stricter rules for purchasing and keeping firearms in June but a significant tightening of the law was not on the table.
It decided by 24 votes to eight against a central database.
Amnesty International believes that the availability of guns should be restricted, arguing that the fact they are kept in the home is a permanent risk and could be a contributing factor for gun suicides and murders.
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