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Troops pay to keep latest assault rifle at home

The SIG 90 - soon to be a fixture in many Swiss homes Keystone

Soldiers who have completed military service can hold on to the army’s latest assault rifle from April 1, but they will have to pay for the pleasure.

This content was published on March 11, 2005 - 18:43

The government says the weapons must first have their fully automatic capability disabled – and owners have to foot the bill.

Friday’s ruling means Swiss soldiers can, for the first time, take home the SIG 90 assault rifle.

Previously, they had only been allowed to keep the older SIG 57 rifle and regulation pistols.

But in a break with tradition, those who don’t want to be separated from their personal weapon will have to dip into their pockets. This applies to both new and old SIG models.

They will have to pay up to SFr100 ($87) to have their rifle disabled, so that it cannot fire in bursts. In the past, the army’s logistics division picked up the tab.

Army cuts

Sweeping budget cuts have also hit the army, which is reducing the militia force by a third, from 350,000 to 220,000 soldiers (including 80,000 reservists).

In December the defence ministry said it planned to close 25 military sites, including four airbases, as part of efforts to make annual savings of SFr240 million ($209 million) by 2010.

Around 560,000 Swiss soldiers currently keep a rifle or pistol at home. Under the country’s militia system, troops have to be ready for action at the drop of a hat.

But over the past decade, those who have completed military service have become less inclined to hang on to their firearm.

In 1994 more than half of them took home their rifle or pistol; last year this figure had shrunk to 43 per cent.

According to the Federal Police Office, there are around three million firearms in private hands in Switzerland.

Gun law revision

In a separate development on Friday, the government said it would delay any revision of the gun law until a likely nationwide vote on the Schengen/Dublin accord.

The bilateral treaty between Switzerland and the European Union, which has been approved by the government and parliament, covers closer cooperation on security and asylum.

Schengen includes directives on the sale and possession of firearms, including a ban on automatic weapons.

It is being challenged by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party as well as the isolationist Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland.

If enough signatures are collected, a nationwide referendum will take place on June 5 this year.

In the wake of the massacre in September 2001, when a lone gunman shot dead 14 people in the cantonal parliament in Zug, the then justice minister, Ruth Metzler, proposed setting up a central register for firearms.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

It is estimated that at least 16 out of every 100 civilians own a firearm. In addition, there are 560,000 weapons in the hands of the military.

Researchers believe there are at least 1.2 million privately owned weapons in Switzerland.

The Federal Police Office says the actual figure is probably much higher, nearer three million.

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