(Bloomberg) -- Switzerland backed new restrictions on semi-automatic firearms, choosing to forgo a potential standoff with the European Union.

While Switzerland has declined to join the 28-country bloc, it is a member of the open-border Schengen area and therefore must harmonize its weapons laws. Nearly two thirds of voters backed the change in a referendum on Sunday. It means civilians using and owning large-magazine semi-automatic guns will need special permission and additional checks.

“We’re taking care of the safety and security of people in Switzerland without undermining the traditional shooting culture,” said Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter.

Opponents of the measure, including members of rifle clubs, had feared the country’s tradition of shooting for sport was under threat. Those in favor, including the government, cited the importance of Schengen and said the new rules wouldn’t end the culture of shooting matches -- such as the annual Zurich event called Knabenschiessen.

Switzerland ranks high in Europe for civilian ownership of firearms on a per capita basis, as there is mandatory military service and former soldiers may keep their weapons. Gun crime is rare, however, and the last mass-fatality shooting took place in 2001.

In a separate referendum, the Swiss also backed an overhaul of the corporate tax regime.

(Updates with final result, government comment.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at cbosley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fergal O'Brien at fobrien@bloomberg.net, Zoe Schneeweiss, Jan Dahinten

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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