The controversial initiative on restricting access to firearms – which was rejected by Swiss voters on Sunday – has been followed closely in the United States.
The US, which also has a gun-bearing tradition, is currently dealing with the fallout from a fatal gun attack in Arizona. However, gun control has not been made a political priority.
Just over 56 per cent of Swiss voters threw out a proposal to ban army-issue firearms from the home and set up a central arms register in a bid to curb gun violence.
The initiative also called for a strict licensing system for the use of firearms and sought a ban on the purchase of automatic weapons and pump action shotguns.
Chris Knox, spokesman for the pro-gun Arizona-based Firearms Coalition, is pleased with the result.
“It would have been a strategic error on the part of the Swiss people to limit the right to bear arms,” said Knox, the son of the late Neal Knox, a legendary figure in the US pro-gun movement and former rival to Charlton Heston for the presidency of the National Rifle Association.
“My father greatly admired the traditional Swiss system. Switzerland is the most armed and the most free of countries; the right to bear arms makes the difference between a subject and a citizen, a citizen can push back against a rogue government or other rogue elements,” Knox added.
“Nazi Germany never tried to take over Switzerland and I firmly believe that’s because the Swiss were armed.”
Knox “absolutely opposed” the measures set out in the Swiss initiative. “Historically, a national register has been a precursor for confiscation by the government,” he said.
“As far as assault weapons are concerned, I have had the occasion to shoot machine guns and they’re a lot of fun, and on the requirement for a justification, my view is that I need a gun because I want one.”
But Josh Horwitz, director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, is disappointed by the result. For him, the provisions of the initiative “made sense”.
“They would have certainly made a difference by reducing death and injury, especially through suicide. They could have prevented arms going to criminals and we know that automatic weapons are involved in a disproportionate number of crimes.”
Horwitz also denounced “the myth that somehow having the right to bear arms is tied to freedom”.
The Arizona case - in which a man armed with a semi-automatic pistol opened fire on a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and injuring 13 others, including Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – has not put an end to the American love affair with the gun.
Nor did the 33 deaths and 25 injured after the rampage at the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, one of the largest gun attacks in the US, serve to change minds.
President Barack Obama called the Tucson attack a national tragedy. The speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said it was a “sad day” for the US, while the sheriff of Tucson called on his fellow citizens to do some soul-searching.
But until now no extra gun control measures have been taken either nationally or in Arizona, one of the three most lax states on the issue as no permit is required to bear arms.
“Tucson was an awful tragedy but completely predictable given there is so much fire power on the streets,” Horwitz said.
There are an estimated 283 million guns in civilian hands in the US and 6.5 million firearms are sold each year.
“After Tucson, Obama had a golden opportunity to push for reforms, he made a wonderful speech but he failed to talk about what to do about it,” Horwitz said.
Obama did not, for example, make gun control a priority issue in his recent State of the Union address.
For his part, Knox was horrified by the Tucson attack. “But this barbaric act doesn’t change my position, not in the least. The availability of guns has very little bearing on how people misuse them.”
The political climate is not favourable to limiting gun rights – not only do the Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives, but some Democrats are also gun fans. Even Giffords had her own gun, the same make as her attacker’s.
Obama and his fellow Democrats know that mobilising the gun lobby could undermine their presidential and legislative electoral chances in 2012.
“Even Bill Clinton said that the Democrats lost the House and the Senate in 1994 because they had passed a ban on assault weapons, and that ban was lifted ten years later,” said Knox.
On January 8, 2011, a young man fired a semi-automatic firearm at Democrat Deputy Gabrielle Giffords who was meeting voters at a supermarket. 6 people were killed and 13 injured, including Giffords.
President Barack Obama called the attack a “national tragedy”.
Jared Loughner, 22 years old and with a history of mental health problems, was arrested over the attack. He is accused of murder and attempted murder. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.end of infobox
Guns: Switzerland and the US
Law: Possession and right to carry arms are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and by law in Switzerland.
Gun register: Neither country has a national register.
Suicide: The US and Switzerland are the two countries with the highest gun suicide rate (57% of suicides in the US, 28% in Switzerland).end of infobox
Stop gun violence initiative
The initiative was aimed at introducing a strict licensing system for the use of firearms, and sought a ban on the purchase of automatic weapons and pump action shotguns.
It also called for the creation of a central register for firearms, instead of a cantonal system and a ban on storing army-issue guns at home.
The proposal was launched in 2007 by a broad alliance of NGOs and had the backing of centre-left political parties.
It was rejected by around 56% of Swiss voters on February 13.end of infobox
(Translated from French by Isobel Leybold-Johnson), swissinfo.ch