Estimates are that something between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are in circulation. Despite this prevalence, crime rates are low

news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute| June 8, 2014| 7.20 pm IST

If you see some guns lying around outside the restaurant or movement of troops and armoured vehicles in the middle of the day on the motorway, you can be certain you are in Switzerland. Better still, guns at home are routinely polished and stored away with live ammunition in a country where the gun culture not only thrives, but sharpshooting is a recreational activity. 

A country of eight million that has not been to war since and eye-ball to eye-ball standoff between the Protestants and Catholics in 1847, the Swiss love their guns and have a gun culture that has nothing to do with what happens across the Atlantic in the United States (US) 

In fact, it is not widely known that the country famous for chocolates, cheese and watches comes behind only the US, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita. Estimates are that something between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are in circulation. Despite this prevalence, crime rates are low and government figures say it is 0.5 gun homicide per 100,000 people compared to five per 100,000 in the US. 

Every time there is a shoot-out in a school in America – as happened a few days ago – the conversation comes back to the same question – what is it that keeps the Swiss from not going on a rampage? How many governments can trust their inhabitants with guns in their closets?

The country’s gun politics is not like that of any other European country. Most men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training which also includes weapons training. The personal weapons are all accounted for and kept at home which is why it is not unusual to see men with rifles slung over their shoulders cycling to the nearest shooting range for target practice.

Legally a Swiss citizen or a legal resident over the age of 18 can get a permit from the government to buy a maximum of three weapons from an authorized shop. This does not include automatic firearms and some selective weapons which are banned. Semiautomatics – the ones which are the ones most used in the US – are legally on sale in Switzerland. There is a robust black-market for guns in the country but random violence is low even compared to other countries in Europe. 

What sets the Swiss apart from others is the association of safety and security with civic and social responsibility. It is a disciplined people and manicured hillsides and potable water fountains are all protected with the same sense of duty as are national frontiers which the country shares with France, Germany and Italy. The Swiss would have been over-run by the Germans during the second World War except for the fact that every Swiss was armed to shoot.

Swiss mercenaries and Swiss guards are famous around the world and arms training can be secured in the country where professionals train private entities in shooting and other activities. Push came to shove in 2011 when a popular referendum that sought to limit arms in the country was thrown out by a vote which clearly showed that managing thirty percent of the world’s assets under management did not lull the people into believing they would be protected – the Swiss were not about to outsource their security to others who could not guarantee Swiss quality!

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