SSAA comment: Much has been spoken of the Swiss experience in the ownership of firearms. This Switzerland Embassy (Australia) document clearly shows the current situation.
SWISS GUN LEGISLATION
When assessing Swiss gun legislation, three importrant factors have to be considered:
THE SWISS MILITARY TRADITION
Compulsory military service in militia army
Switzerland has an old tradition of neutrality and self-defence which has prevented the country being drawn in to the major European conflicts of the last two centuries.
The Swiss army has always been based on a militia system. This should not be confused with a reservist army. Under the militia system, every able-bodied male citizen goes through regular military training during a minimum period of 22 years, i.e. from the age of20 to 42 (officer:52).
Annual shooting training for all soldiers
Military education starts with a 15 weeks basic training. After that, the soldiers will be called to further training for a period of 3 weeks every two years (NCOs and officers having additional time to serve). Furthermore, annual target practice which is done at a local target range is compulsory.
Privates and lower ranking NCO's are issued a 5.56mm assault rifle, whereas higher NCO's and officers are armed with semi-automatic handguns. In order to be able to mobilize within the shortest possible time, all military personel keep their complete personel equipment at home, including gas mask, weapons and 20 rounds of ammunition for pistols as well as the new automatic rifles (24 rounds for the older 7.5mm rifle).
Weapons and ammunition (kept in a sealed container) have to be stored under lock and key. They must be presented for regular inspections, where it is also controlled whether the ammunition is still properly sealed. Misuse of military weapons, as well as failure to store them securely, is severley punished by military justice (3 days to 3 years detention, considerably more in case of mobilization).
Importance of personal responsibility
Due to the prolonged and strict drilling in manipulating weapons under the special circumstances of military exercises, the Swiss citizen-soldier develops a high sense of personal responsibility in the use of weapons. Althought here are no official statistics available it is well known fact there are very few incidents where misuse of military weapons is involved.
It goes without saying that people who do not live up to the required responsibility standards lose their right to carry their personal military weapon.
CANTONAL GUN LEGISLATION
At present, gun legislation falls within the competence of the Swiss Cantons, save special regulations for some categories of foreign nationals and for international trade in arms.
With one exception, the Cantons have acceeded to an agreement which - inter alia - introduces compulsory licencing for the aquisition of handguns (as opposed to rifles) and bans trade in automatic weapons.
An aquisition licence will not be granted if - inter alia - the applicant
Some Cantons have gone further than the intercantonal agreement and demand a special licence for carrying weapons ( see below).
The existing gun legislation has one important loophole: There are no special prescriptions for semi-automatic rifles in the intercantonal agreement. Therefore, whilst the carrying of such a weapon would require a licence in many of the cantons, in some of them semi-automatic rifles may be acquired without restriction.
ONGOING REVISION OF GUN LEGISLATION
Below average rates of homicides
Comparative studies have shown that Switzerland has a rate of homicides below average. (There are no official or officially recognized statistics on the use of guns in homicides in Switzerland).
Changing International environment
However, a changing international environment has proved existing gun legislation to be partly inadequate. In the early nineties, the war on the Balkans and other conflicts have led to a sudden increase in the demand for semi-automatic weapons in Switzerland. It became obvious that tougher legislation was needed to maintain security of the population and to prevent Switzerland from being misused as a basis for international arms trafficking.
Referendum held in 1993
Although it meant interfering in the old rights of the citizens, in a nationwide referendum in 1993, 86% of the Swiss people voted in favour of amending the gun laws.
New bill has passed first Chamber
The Swiss Parliament is currently debating a bill which will introduce a tight control and licencing system for the aquisition and carrying of arms, including semi-automatic weapons. The bill has been passed by the First Chamber (Standerat, Senate) and will enter into force in 1997.
Restrictive licencing system
The two-tier control and licencing sytem provide for;
- qualifies for an acquisition licence
- can prove the need for carrying a weapon for personal protection
- has passed an examination on legal knowldge and competent handling of weapons
The carying licence is granted for a period of maximum 3 years..
Special rules for sports shooting, hunters and police
Transport of weapons, e.g. to the rifle range, does not require a carrying licence. In transport however, weapons and ammunition have to kept seperate.
Therefore, participants in target practice or competitions organised by shooter's and military associations do not require a carrying licence.
Hunters who have passed the necessary examination and own a hunting licence do not need a carrying licence for their hunting activity.
Special rules apply for the army as well as police and customs authorities.
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Thus, the Swiss strategy for preventing the misues of weapons is two-fold:
Swiss Embassy in Canberra, Information Service
Copy held SSAA National