The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works

The country had one mass shooting in 2001, but a resulting anti-gun referendum failed to pass. The Swiss will not give up the gun. Can their system work in the U.S.?

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Michael Buholzer / Reuters

Swiss marksmen shoot at targets over 300 m away during an annual shooting-skills exercise near Bern

Even as the gun-control debate rises again in the U.S. in the aftermath of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the gun-loving Swiss are not about to lay down their arms. Guns are ubiquitous in this neutral nation, with sharpshooting considered a fun and wholesome recreational activity for people of all ages.

Even though Switzerland has not been involved in an armed conflict since a standoff between Catholics and Protestants in 1847, the Swiss are very serious not only about their right to own weapons but also to carry them around in public. Because of this general acceptance and even pride in gun ownership, nobody bats an eye at the sight of a civilian riding a bus, bike or motorcycle to the shooting range, with a rifle slung across the shoulder.

(MORE: The World’s Best — and Worst — Places to Live)

“We will never change our attitude about the responsible use of weapons by law-abiding citizens,” says Hermann Suter, vice president of Pro-Tell, the country’s gun lobby, named after legendary apple shooter William Tell, who used a crossbow to target enemies long before firearms were invented.

Switzerland trails behind only the U.S, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita; between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in a country of only 8 million people. Yet, despite the prevalence of guns, the violent-crime rate is low: government figures show about 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. By comparison, the U.S rate in the same year was about 5 firearm killings per 100,000 people, according to a 2011 U.N. report.

Unlike some other heavily armed nations, Switzerland’s gun ownership is deeply rooted in a sense of patriotic duty and national identity. Weapons are kept at home because of the long-held belief that enemies could invade tiny Switzerland quickly, so every soldier had to be able to fight his way to his regiment’s assembly point. (Switzerland was at risk of being invaded by Germany during World War II but was spared, historians say, because every Swiss man was armed and trained to shoot.)

(MORE: Switzerland: Are Its Days as a Tax Haven for Foreigners Numbered?)

But the “gun in every closet” tradition was challenged in 2001, after a disgruntled citizen opened fire with his army rifle inside a regional parliament, killing 14 and injuring 14 others — the only mass shooting in Switzerland’s recent history. The subsequent opposition to widespread gun ownership spearheaded a push for stricter arms legislation. The government and pro-gun groups argued, however, that the country’s existing laws regulating the sale, ownership and licensing of private guns, which includes a ban on carrying concealed weapons, are stringent enough. The law allows citizens or legal residents over the age of 18, who have obtained a permit from the government and who have no criminal record or history of mental illness, to buy up to three weapons from an authorized dealer, with the exception of automatic firearms and selective fire weapons, which are banned. Semiautomatics, which have caused havoc in the U.S., can be legally purchased.

The authorities made one concession, though: since 2008, all military — but not private — ammunition must be stored in central arsenals rather than in soldiers’ homes. The debate culminated in a nationwide referendum last year, when 56% of voters rejected the proposal initiated by anti-gun organizations to ban army rifles from homes altogether.

Although guns are responsible for between 200 and 300 suicides each year in Switzerland, Pro-Tell’s Suter says these statistics have to be put in a wider perspective. He points out that the bullets used in suicides are only a tiny fraction of the 75 million rounds of ammunition that are fired each year in Switzerland during military and civilian target practice.

(MORE: When the Swiss Aren’t Neutral: Chocolates and the CIA)

One of the reasons the crime rate in Switzerland is low despite the prevalence of weapons — and also why the Swiss mentality can’t be transposed to the current American reality — is the culture of responsibility and safety that is anchored in society and passed from generation to generation. Kids as young as 12 belong to gun groups in their local communities, where they learn sharpshooting. The Swiss Shooting Sports Association runs about 3,000 clubs and has 150,000 members, including a youth section. Many members keep their guns and ammunition at home, while others choose to leave them at the club. And yet, despite such easy access to pistols and rifles, “no members have ever used their guns for criminal purposes,” says Max Flueckiger, the association’s spokesperson.

“Social conditions are fundamental in deterring crime,” says Peter Squires, professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton in Great Britain, who has studied gun violence in different countries and concluded that a “culture of support” rather than focus on individualism, can deter mass killings.

“If people have a responsible, disciplined and organized introduction into an activity like shooting, there will be less risk of gun violence,” he tells TIME.

That sense of social and civic responsibility is one of the reasons the Swiss have never allowed their guns to come under fire.

MORE: Switzerland: A Painful History

386 comments
MiloBendech
MiloBendech

In 2001 a disgruntled citizen opened fire with his army rifle inside a regional parliament, killing 14 and injuring 14 others — the only mass shooting in Switzerland’s recent history. 

UPDATE


In 2013 in the French-speaking village of Daillon, 100km (62 miles) from Geneva, a psychologically disturbed man opened fire on locals, killing three people and wounding two others. Police had already confiscated weapons from the gunman in 2005, after he had been placed in psychiatric care.

Inevitably, his actions prompted a fresh wave of debate in Switzerland about its relatively liberal gun laws.

Chedring
Chedring

Would the Swiss system work in the US? Sure, but why does it work so well for them? Probably because they have very few immigrants and most of the civilian population is white, so low gang rate and low chance of recruitment and development. This is literally one big hope for civilized society for the future.

JennWhitfordPalumbo
JennWhitfordPalumbo

Someone asked what the answer is. Look at who is committing the majority of gun crimes in this country. LIBERALS. The very scum who want to take away our rights are the ones  who abuse them. Guns aren't the problem. Liberals are.

DefuseCrime_LLC
DefuseCrime_LLC

"Unlike some other heavily armed nations, Switzerland’s gun ownership is deeply rooted in a sense of patriotic duty and national identity. Weapons are kept at home because of the long-held belief that enemies could invade tiny Switzerland quickly, so every soldier had to be able to fight his way to his regiment’s assembly point." 

"Deeply rooted in a sense of patriotic duty" ..... America could learn from Switzerland's way of doing things. 

Yours in crime prevention and training,
Mark Fowler/Manager DEFUSE CRIME LLC

1300 S. Watson Rd. STE-114, PMB-262

Buckeye, AZ 85326 

defusecrime.com

x_wolff
x_wolff

@GrumpyOldeDude Nice piece of liberal propaganda, try throwing me something not funded by socialist politics.

R__O__D
R__O__D

In the 60's anti-whites forced ALL and ONLY white countries to open their borders to non-white immigrants. Then anti-whites forced ALL and ONLY white people to "integrate" or face consequences for being "naziswhowantokill6millionjews." Now anti-whites are counting down the days until ALL and ONLY white children become minorities and eventually extinct EVERYWHERE. It's Genocide. "Anti-racist" is a codeword for anti-white.

whois
whois

"Although guns are responsible for between 200 and 300 suicides each year in Switzerland..."  The guns are responsible for the suicides?

"Semiautomatics, which have caused havoc in the U.S.,...."   The semiautomatics caused the havoc?

This article is typical anti-gun "journalism".  Demonize the inanimate object so as not to blame anyone in particular.




cpratt001
cpratt001

Chicago: hundreds killed each year (daily); extreme gun laws already in place (some of the most restrictive in the nation).  If anti-gun requirements, bans and restrictions do not work there then why cant anyone understand the logic fails?

Had guns in my house 47 years.  I was taught as a 4 year old how to handle and respect guns.  My guns are stored safely in a gun safe (true safe, not some cheesy tin box) because i know owning a firearm means i am responsible for it and any bullet that leaves that muzzle.  No one has ever been hurt nor killed, not even threatened by a gun in my home (although several animals have been killed while hunting-bring this up to make the point the guns are regularly used).

Folks-it is NOT the guns.  It is the lack of intelligence, responsibility, accountability.  it is mental health, it is our "mcdonalds society"-i want it now, in the drive thru and i do not want to wait.  It is our failure to use common sense (is arresting a 5 year old with a pretend grenade common sense?), it is poor parenting, it is our failure to provide people with guns good, free training how to use them, it is our failure to provide them a good, free place to use them at a competitive level.

It is not our "gun culture", it is our complete culture that lacks in connectivity.  No connectivity leads to cold relationships.  It is lack of love, it is lack of God and spirituality in our society.  Give the bad guy/drug addict celebrity a second chance, give the addicted, cheating athlete as many chances as he needs because he is our lord and king-we look up to him.  we want to be like him.  Our mirrors that look beneath the surface are broken, our friends dont know we have problems because they dont see us anymore or talk to us anymore, they get a text or facebook mail.  we are a DYING SOCIETY and there is no doctor, the only cure is time.

CarlE.MottIII
CarlE.MottIII

@Chedring Because they are white? Didn't white folks have a problem in Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina? No gangs? Ever hear of the Russian or Irish mafia? And I guess you know little of Switzerland a nation of 4 languages and 2 religions? Far from homogeneous by Euro standards. Well regulation works, especially in a well law abiding nation. It'd probably work in Japan too, and they've got the Yakuza.

KevinSpruill
KevinSpruill

@Chedring your one big hope is monoculture... a shunning of all cultures, groups, religions not yours? Is it your contention that a vast homogeneous society... one religion, one political philosophy, etc. - that will solve the problem? Tell me again why in cultures that fit your ideal - there is still violence?

CarlE.MottIII
CarlE.MottIII

@JennWhitfordPalumbo Where did you get this unsubstantiated gem? Rush? From what I see most in these high profile, whack-job,  mass shooters seem to be apolitical, expressing no real interest in politics.

KevinSpruill
KevinSpruill

@JennWhitfordPalumbo - first, typing things in all caps, especially terms used as pejoratives such as "LIBERALS" does nothing to dissuade people from the notion that your full of crap. But I'll bite... please provide credible sourcing for that ludicrous claim (the liberals commit majority of gun crime) - we'll wait. As for the other part... no ones trying to take away your guns... your sense of victimization is showing... might want to get some therapy for that

springsky
springsky

@JennWhitfordPalumbo WHERE  did you get that information? It's a blatant lie perpetuated by the nuts at Fox. Adcutally, the opposite is true. Most all of the mass murderers have identified as politifcally Right Winged!! Go do you homework!!

springsky
springsky

@JennWhitfordPalumbo WHERE  did you get that info from? It's a blatant lie perpetrated by the nutwings. Actually, the opposite is true. All the mass murderers have been Right-winged. go do your homework!

MiloBendech
MiloBendech

@JennWhitfordPalumboI'm not sure where you got your information from because authorities don't keep records of  the political preference of people who commit gun crimes.

Rather than to rely on heresay or information it's better to go by the facts:

Here is a list of the massacres that occurred in the US last year.  It list the state, the dates, the number of people killed (4 or more innocent victims and it's on this list).

Although it doesn't say liberal or conservative, you can see whether the Red States or the Blue states have more gun massacres.  Generally speaking the Red states have more gun friendly legislation


12/1/13    Topeka    Kan.    Shooting    Family killing    4
11/23/13    Tulsa    Okla.    Shooting    Other    4
11/7/13    Jacksonville    Fla.    Shooting    Other    4
10/29/13    Callison    S.C.    Shooting    Family killing    5
10/28/13    Terrell    Texas    Shooting    Other    5
10/26/13    Phoenix    Ariz.    Shooting    Other    4
10/26/13    New York    N.Y.    Stabbing    Family killing    5
10/9/13    Paris    Texas    Shooting    Other    4
9/20/13    Rice    Texas    Shooting    Family killing    4
9/16/13    Washington    D.C.    Shooting    Public Killing    12
9/11/13    Crab Orchard    Tenn.    Shooting    Robbery/burglary    4
8/14/13    Oklahoma City    Okla.    Shooting    Family killing    4
8/7/13    Dallas    Texas    Shooting    Family killing    4
7/26/13    Clarksburg    W.Va.    Shooting    Other    4
7/26/13    Hialeah    Fla.    Shooting    Public Killing    6
6/7/13    Santa Monica    Calif.    Shooting    Public Killing    5
5/13/13    Fernley    Nev.    Shooting, Stabbing    Robbery/burglary    5
5/11/13    Waynesville    Ind.    Shooting    Other    4
4/28/13    Ottawa    Kan.    Shooting    Family killing    4
4/24/13    Manchester    Ill.    Shooting    Family killing    5
4/22/13    Federal Way    Wash.    Shooting    Family killing    4
4/18/13    Akron    Ohio    Shooting    Robbery/burglary    4
4/15/13    Boston    Mass.    Blunt force    Public Killing    4
3/13/13    Herkimer    N.Y.    Shooting    Public Killing    4
1/19/13    Albuquerque    N.M.    Shooting    Family killing    5
1/7/13    Tulsa    Okla.    Shooting    Robbery/burglary    4

Dams
Dams

@happyloner @Methos2010  exactly there's a difference between some lone gun lover stocking up on automatic weapons and a civilian militia 

jswifty250
jswifty250

@AsmodeusX13 I wish people weren't so irrationality scared of guns here. And the Swiss have an interesting story and history.

TylerBaldwin
TylerBaldwin

@whois  This article is about Switzerland's successful gun culture.. real anti-gun journalism going on here. Moron..

MBDElf
MBDElf

@cpratt001  - All the people killed in Chicago, with the strict gun laws, are killed with guns bought OUTSIDE the city. FAIL #1.  (BTW, happy that you are a long-term responsible gun owner.)


While guns do not have a "soul", or even consciousness, they ARE enablers for weak-minded people.  Yes, it IS the lack of intellect, responsibility, and accountability.  Everyone demands their "rights", ignore the attendant responsibilities, and they all have an excuse why THEY should get away with it.  Common sense went away on the same train as personal responsibility.

Gun culture?  No.  It is the COMPLETE LACK OF CULTURE that is the issue.  What's OK in Ohio is SCANDALOUS in Indiana, and TAME in New York State.  Instant personal gratification and double/triple/multiple standards is NOT a culture.  When it became OK to decide, at age 12, what we did and did not NEED to learn, we were in TROUBLE.  Psychologists told us as a nation that spanking our kids was bad, and within a generation, we were housing junior terrorists.

It's not a new thing, either; the generational 'curse' we've dealt with for too many decades is the younger one seeing the hypocrisy of the older one, rejecting it and everything with it, and trying their own...hypocrisy.  We don't HAVE a national culture, we have a national character -- and that character is an ill-behaved playground urchin who's all show and no go.  We have people passing fortunes on to their kids, and the kids look around, see other people with LESS money, and want THAT, too.

Since you brought up "God" (which is where you REALLY lost me, I'm not there with you), the closest thing to "culture" we have is to practice and celebrate the Seven Deadlies.  If you need 'God' to be a good person, you're not a good person.

DinouDinou
DinouDinou

@MiloBendech - You're an idiot. Blacks commit 50% of homicides in the US and hispanics 25%. The vast majority are Obama voters. It's a MINORITY problem and also why Switzerland doesn't have a high crime rate. All the European countries who have been accepting refugees are experiencing higher crime rates as a result.

AsmodeusX13
AsmodeusX13

@jswifty250 Well that's the gun grabbers culture. We need the original American frontiersmen gun culture back in this country >.>

markchera
markchera

@jswifty250 Only problem is the Swiss I know on Twitter are about 50/50 on the issue. They have a liberal young generation same as us. :/

DinouDinou
DinouDinou

@MBDElf @cpratt001- It's a MINORITY issue - blacks and hispanics are committing the vast amount of violent crime. And anyone who tries to mention it is called a racist. Americans, enjoy your country while it lasts, it will be soon like Brazil.

dabouv1
dabouv1

@JennWhitfordPalumbo @RyanTracey You are an idiot.  Guns aren't a liberal/conservative issue nor are they a he man/pansy issue.  Its a smart/stupid issue and I know what you are.  I own a bunch of guns.  Real guns that are used to hunt.  I don't need a semi automatic .223 to feel tough.  Its a crappy caliber not much good for anything.  If I had an intruder, I'd use my 12 gauge IF they got past my big dog.  If I wanted a rifle, I would want more knock down power than a .223. My police buddies don't like 9mm, they want more power suck as a .45.  I have owned guns for most of 50 years and grew up in the rural Midwest.  30 years ago, almost no one had a pistol and we seemed to do fine with bolt action rifles.  In fact, I quit my group hunting for coyotes when the mini 14's started to become popular because it attracted morons who weren't responsible.  Did I say you were an idiot? 

dabouv1
dabouv1

@JennWhitfordPalumbo @RyanTracey You are a true idiot. 

Dams
Dams

@JennWhitfordPalumbo @RyanTracey  I dont usually say this but hows about you go back to the kitchen or bedroom whichever one you're best at so the rest of us imaginary men can discuss issues with facts like adults 

CarlE.MottIII
CarlE.MottIII

@DinouDinou Funny, but I've yet see one black or hispanic involved in a mass shooting....or woman for that matter. Just angry white men...and one Arab in 2009 Ft hood.

KevinSpruill
KevinSpruill

@DinouDinou that is a patent lie and thats clearly and easily debunked using the FBI crime statistics... sorry sparky, but lying to perpetuate your bigotry doesn't make it so... grow up. But by all means - if you have facts to back up your fantastic claim... g'head, we'll wait.

RyanTracey
RyanTracey

@markchera @jswifty250  By "left-leaning tech-friendly slice of society" you mean intelligent, right?

markchera
markchera

@jswifty250 and...maybe a more left-leaning tech-friendly slice of society? (Pleasepleaseplease)

jswifty250
jswifty250

@markchera I always have 2 remember that twitter represents such a small part of society. also, not necessarily a realistic representation.

CharlesThomas
CharlesThomas

@KevinSpruill He's actually correct about the stats.  Check out FBI.gov.  What he's wrong about is why those stats are what they are.