Neutral Switzerland is among the best-armed nations in the world, with more guns per capita than almost any other country except the US, Finland and Yemen. At least 2.3 million weapons lie stashed in basements, cupboards and lofts in the country of less than 8 million people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.
On Sunday, Swiss voters made sure it stays that way, rejecting a proposal to tighten the peaceful Alpine nation’s relaxed firearms laws. The decision was hailed as a victory by gun enthusiasts, sports shooters and supporters of Switzerland’s citizen soldier tradition.
“This is an important sign of confidence in our soldiers,” said Pius Segmueller, a lawmaker with the Christian People’s Party and former commander of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.
In Switzerland, where all able-bodied men are required to perform military duty, many choose to take their army-issued rifle home with them even after completing military service. Gun clubs also remain a popular feature of village life in rural parts of the country, with children as young as 10 taking part in shooting competitions.
Doctors, churches and women’s groups tried and failed on Sunday to require military-issued firearms to be locked in secure army depots. They also wanted the Swiss government to establish a national gun registry and ban the sale of fully automatic weapons and pump-action rifles, arguing this would help cut incidents of domestic violence and Switzerland’s high rate of firearms suicides.
The clear defeat of the proposal — 56.3 percent of voters rejected it — may seem surprising for a peaceful nation that hasn’t been at war with its neighbors since Napoleon invaded two centuries ago, but Switzerland is a country that cherishes the myth of William Tell and its soldiers’ supposed defiance of Nazi Germany in World War II.
RELUCTANCE TO VOTE
Martine Brunschwig-Graf, a national lawmaker with the left-of-center Social Democratic Party, blamed the defeat of the measure on women’s reluctance to vote on an issue she says affects them most.
Women are the main victims of domestic violence and are also the ones left behind when their fathers, husbands or boyfriends commit suicide with an army weapon, she said.
About a quarter of Switzerland’s 1,300 suicides each year involve a gun and those calling for tighter rules claim military weapons, such as the SG 550 assault rifle, are used in between 100 and 200 suicides a year.