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Army struggles to recover missing guns

Swiss recruits are issued weapons at the beginning of their military training Keystone

The Swiss armed forces are still having trouble locating a number of guns issued to soldiers who completed their compulsory service between 2006 and 2011, said the defence ministry in a statement on Friday.

Last March the army began checking on the whereabouts of the rifles and pistols of 27,600 soldiers who ended their service during that period. While registration has been completed for more than 80 per cent, around 4,000 citizen-soldiers have yet to reply while another 865 have not been located and are still being actively sought.

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.

However, most active members are not allowed to store munitions, since a ban on the practice was agreed by Parliament in December 2008. Ammunition is now mainly stored in central arsenals.

All able-bodied Swiss men are conscripted at latest before the age of 30 for at least four-and-a-half months of basic training and are issued a rifle. After their initial training they are required to do up to three weeks of army service a year until they have served 260 days or reached the age of 34.

Once soldiers are freed from military obligations, they are allowed to keep their firearms if they were enlisted for at least seven years and have a purchase permit from their canton of residence.

Since mid-2011, the army has gone through the files of 309,000 soldiers and recovered 11,700 guns, many of which had been on loan. The verification of the army’s personnel files and the recovery of loaned weapons if legal prescriptions are not respected are part of the armed forces’ plan to avoid the misuse of military firearms.

As of March, regional commanders will be responsible for recovering loaned weapons, a task they will be able to delegate to cantonal police forces. Information exchanges between the defence ministry and the justice and police ministry have also been optimised.

Major debate

Army weapons have been one of the issues discussed in the Swiss gun control debate. Up to a million of these firearms belonging to citizens no longer on standby for active military service are still in circulation.

Army-issue weapons are said to be involved in more than 300 suicides in Switzerland every year and have also been used in a number of high-profile shootings, the most recent in the village of Daillon, canton Valais, where three people were killed and two injured.

While this leads regularly to calls for tighter gun control, Swiss voters turned down a proposal for improved regulations, notably for military weapons, just two years ago.

After the Daillon shooting, the security committee of the House of Representatives also rejected the idea of collecting all military-issue firearms held by private owners, but did call for the networking of all cantonal gun registers to be completed as soon as possible.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR