The following article was written by guest writer Quentin Mathey, who is a friend and a Swiss militia member. Switzerland’s militia is part of their federalized military service system. Quentin is a big advocate for the Swiss defense forces as well as a supporter of private gun ownership in his country. In light of the recent passage of more restrictive gun laws in Switzerland, I asked if he would be interested in providing some commentary for our readers as I knew this would be important to our audience. Accurate information is sometimes hard to come by due to language and cultural barriers. If you would like to learn more about the Swiss militia, please take a look at this previous article titled “On the Ground with the Swiss Militia.”—Jack Murphy 

Switzerland recently passed a new gun law that enforces the registration of and restriction of access to semi-automatic firearms. Sixty-three percent of the population supported the measure.

In order to fight terrorism and organized crime, the European Union passed a new directive in 2017 to prevent the abusive use of firearms owned by private citizens. Switzerland, as part of the Schengen Agreement, had to adopt this law. Schengen/Dublin is an agreement between European countries, not necessarily part of the European Union, that permits the free movement of people and goods without the need of a visa inside the area.

Switzerland has a long, storied shooting tradition. Because of Switzerland’s militia army, in which every male must serve at least a year in the service, most male citizens keep a military firearm at home until they finish their military service. Every year, they must prove their proficiency by performing a mandatory shooting event. Those events take place outside of their military duty and are organized by local communities. Ammunition is supplied for free by the army. Every village has a 300-meter shooting range and a local firearm association that manages it. As an example of how popular they are, there’s even an event called “federal shooting:” a voluntary event that takes place all over the country during a weekend and has around 127,000 shooters who participate. You will see children aged 12 and up, men, women, and even senior citizens participating.

Referendum results. Illustration courtesy of the author.

The vote

Yielding to pressure from the European Union, the federal parliament passed new gun laws without major issue in 2018. Each party argued and came to an acceptable compromise. Now, the direct democracy system enables citizens to request a referendum to reject a law if they act in time and gather 50,000 signatures from valid citizens in a three-month timeframe. That’s exactly what happened. In fact, opponents gathered about 125,000 valid signatures. It’s worth noting that Switzerland has a population of about eight million people, of which 25 percent are foreigners without the right to vote.

All parties except one, the right-wing SVP/UDC party, backed the gun law. The SVP/UDC party is the largest in the country, with about 30 percent of the vote.

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Supporters

Opponents

Federal government

Almost all parties

Pro-European associations

14 shooting associations

One major party (SVP/UDC)

Major arguments:

– As part of the Schengen area, Switzerland must accept EU rules.

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– The gun law impacts only a small part of the population and has minor effects.

– If excluded from the Schengen area, border security has to be enforced and loss of tourism will impact everyone.

– If excluded from the Schengen area, we lose access to the SIS II database for wanted criminals.

– If excluded from Schengen area, Switzerland won’t be able to expel criminals and migrants to the Schengen borders.

Major arguments:
– None of the measures in the gun law fight terrorism, organized crime, nor abusive use of firearms.

– If Switzerland rejects the law, Switzerland has three months to renegotiate with the EU before a possible rejection from the Schengen area occurs.

– Switzerland has a long shooting tradition, during which next to no accidents have occurred.

– Switzerland has a strong gun culture that helps prevents crime, leading to one of the lowest national crime rates in the world, if not the lowest.

– New regulations bring administrative costs with no benefit to the intended objective.

 

What are the new gun restrictions? Below are the four main categories of firearms and magazines that have become forbidden.

Semi-automatic rifles that accept magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Rifles shorter than 60 cm in length, including those with folded stock if applicable.

Rifle magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds.

Pistol magazines that can contain more than 20 rounds.

Even if forbidden, these weapons can still be acquired legally. If you meet certain requirements, you can ask for an exception permit to buy an otherwise forbidden weapon. The paperwork will be the same for a semi-automatic weapon as for a full-auto rifle, grenade launcher, or rocket launcher.

Sport shooters can acquire a semi-automatic firearm as long as he or she is part of a recognized shooting club. They must prove every five years that they used their weapon in an event each year.

Swiss owners of forbidden weapons have three years to declare forbidden firearms under a free fees initiative. As of now, they can keep those. There is an estimated 2.3 million firearms in the country and most of them are not registered, as most of those were military firearms given to soldiers and the army did not maintain registration records until 2006.

The gun law also brings a few more regulations about gun markings, and collectors and museums must now make a full listing of firearms and take appropriate measures to prevent robbery or unintentional use.

Under the European directive, the EU can reinforce the gun legislation every five years starting in 2020. 

The Swiss exception

During the European consultation, Switzerland negotiated a major exception: Swiss soldiers, after the end of their military service, can keep their assault rifle or service pistol under the current conditions.

In 2004, 43 percent of Swiss soldiers kept their firearms after their military service, but only 13 percent kept theirs in 2018. The difference is primarily a consequence of a restriction act in 2010, in which soldiers must prove they took part in non-mandatory shooting events in the past three years before the end of their military service. They had to prove to the administration their need to keep their firearm.

Consequences

It’s a hard hit to all firearm owners in Switzerland. Their status changed from responsible owner to possible criminal almost overnight, and now they must prove they are not criminals in order to keep their semi-automatic firearms. As most of the firearms become forbidden, gun owners lose any rights to them. They can then be seized by the police for any reason. You won’t be able to inherit your grandpa’s firearms without fulfilling the conditions and, in the next decade, firearms and gun culture will likely disappear.

As a benefit, Switzerland remains in the Schengen area with free movement of people and goods. Surrendering their culture to countries who have been the victim of terrorism and organized crime, and where illegal firearms are already pervasive, the Swiss people have chosen to believe that their safety is merely the purview of the government, abdicating their personal responsibility.

Featured image courtesy of Sébastien Duroc-Danner

Works cited:

1 https://www.admin.ch/gov/fr/accueil/documentation/votations/20190519/Revision-partielle-de-la-legislation-sur-les-armes.html

2 https://www.swissshooting.ch/media/1907/efs_2018_beteiligung.pdf

3 https://www.lenouvelliste.ch/dossiers/votations-federales-du-19-mai-2019/articles/armes-a-feu-125-000-signatures-contre-la-nouvelle-loi-on-votera-le-19-mai-813618

4 https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/migration-series-part-1-_who-are-the-25-foreign-population-in-switzerland/42412156

5 http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/about-us/highlights/2018/highlight-bp-firearms-holdings.html

6 https://www.lematin.ch/suisse/helvetes-preferent-rendre-armes/story/26639710

 

Supporter :

“Less guns, less violence”

“Reinforce our security, preserve our traditions”


“Yes to gun laws, yes to more control, yes to more security, yes to the Schengen/Dublin agreement.”

“Yes to Schengen, yes to gun control.”

Opponents :

 
“Iniquitous, liberticidal, useless, dangerous, anti-Swiss.”

“Dangerous?”

“Terrorist?”