Gun politics in Switzerland

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A citizen practicing the yearly mandatory training.

Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations. However, it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition (compatible ammunition purchased privately by the individual is still permitted); Switzerland thus has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world.[1] In recent times a minority of political opposition has expressed a desire for tighter gun regulations.[2] A referendum in February 2011 rejected stricter gun control.[3]

Army-issued arms and ammunition collection[edit]

The Swiss army has long been a militia trained and structured to rapidly respond against foreign aggression. Swiss males grow up expecting to undergo basic military training, usually at age 20 in the Rekrutenschule (recruit school), the basic-training camp, after which Swiss men remain part of the "militia" in reserve capacity until age 30 (age 34 for officers).

Each soldier is required to keep his army-issued personal weapon (the 5.56×45mm SIG SG 550 rifle for enlisted personnel and/or the 9mm SIG P220 semi-automatic pistol for officers, military police, medical and postal personnel) at home or (as of 2010) in the local armoury (Zeughaus). Up until October 2007, ammunition (50 rounds 5.56mm / 48 rounds 9mm) was issued as well, which was sealed and inspected regularly to ensure that no unauthorized use had taken place.[4] The ammunition was intended for use while travelling to the army barracks in case of invasion.

In October 2007, the Swiss Federal Council decided that the distribution of ammunition to soldiers shall stop and that all previously issued ammo shall be returned. By March 2011, more than 99% of the ammo has been received. Only special rapid deployment units and the military police still store ammunition at home today.[5]

When their period of service has ended, militiamen have the choice of keeping their personal weapon and other selected items of their equipment.[citation needed] However, keeping the weapon after end of service requires a license.

The government sponsors training with rifles and shooting in competitions for interested adolescents, both male and female.

A "shooting society " somewhere in Switzerland; people come to such ranges to complete mandatory training with service arms, or to shoot for sport and competition.
A "shooting society" somewhere in Switzerland; people come to such ranges to complete mandatory training with service arms, or to shoot for sport and competition.

The sale of ammunition – including Gw Pat.90 rounds for army-issue assault rifles – is subsidized by the Swiss government and made available at the many shooting ranges patronized by both private citizens and members of the militia. There is a regulatory requirement that ammunition sold at ranges must be used there.[citation needed]

The Swiss Army maintains tightened adherence to high standards of lawful military conduct. In 2005, for example, when the Swiss prosecuted recruits who had reenacted the torture scenes of Abu Ghraib, one of the charges was improper use of service weapons.[6]

Number of guns in circulation[edit]

In some 2001 statistics, it is noted that there are about 420,000 assault rifles (fully automatic, or "selective fire") stored at private homes, mostly SIG SG 550 models. Additionally, there are some 320,000 semi-auto rifles and military pistols exempted from military service in private possession, all selective-fire weapons having been converted to semi-automatic operation only. In addition, there are several hundred thousand other semi-automatic small arms classified as carbines. The total number of firearms in private homes is estimated minimally at 1.2 million to 3 million.[7][broken citation]

In 2005 over 10% of households contained handguns, compared to 18% of U.S. households that contained handguns. In 2005 almost 29% of households in Switzerland contained firearms of some kind, compared to almost 43% in the US.[8]

Buying guns[edit]

Switzerland's Weapons Act[9] was revised to accede to the Schengen Treaty effective 12 December 2008.[10][11]

Article 4 of the Act defines weapons broadly, including:

  • Repeating firearms
  • Devices that can spray dangerous substances
  • Switchblade knives, butterfly knives, throwing knives and daggers with a symmetrical blade
  • Devices that specifically intended to hurt people, especially shock-rings, shock rods, batons, throwing stars and slings;
  • Electric shock devices which can damage health in the long term;
  • Compressed gas weapons with a muzzle energy of at least 7.5 Joules or with an appearance like real firearms;[12]
  • Imitation, blank firing and air soft guns that may be visually confused with real firearms.

In order to purchase most weapons, the purchaser must obtain a weapon acquisition permit (Waffenerwerbsschein), in accordance with Article 8 of Act. Swiss citizens over the age of 18 who are not psychiatrically disqualified nor identified as posing security problems, and who have a clean criminal record can request such a permit.

So-called freie Waffen, that is, free-of-regulation weapons, include:

  • Single-shot and multi-barreled rifles for hunting and sport purposes (Article 10), such as bolt-action, muzzle-loading, or breech-loading rifles;
  • Antique firearms manufactured before 1870 and bladed weapons manufactured before 1900 (Article 2);
  • Swiss Army knives (Article 4, section 6).

Storage of military-issued ammunition[edit]

Ready ammunition of the Swiss Army. Soldiers equipped with the Sig 550 assault rifle used to be issued 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed can, to be opened only upon alert and for use while en route to join their unit. This practice was stopped in 2007.[13]

Prior to 2007 members of the Swiss Militia were supplied with 50 rounds of ammunition for their military weapon in a sealed ammo box that was regularly audited by the government. This was so that, in the case of an emergency, the militia could respond quickly. However, since 2007 this practice has been discontinued. Only 2,000 specialist militia members (who protect airports and other sites of particular sensitivity) are permitted to keep their military-issued ammunition at home. The rest of the militia get their ammunition from their military armory in the event of an emergency.[13]

There is no restriction on possessing personally purchased ammunition capable of being used in their issued weapon, and such ammunition is readily available in shops and at many firing ranges.[citation needed]

Carrying guns[edit]

To carry a loaded firearm in public or outdoors (and for an individual who is a member of the militia carrying a firearm other than his Army-issue personal weapons off-duty), a person must have a Waffentragbewilligung (gun carrying permit), which in most cases is issued only to private citizens working in occupations such as security.[14] It is, however, quite common to see a person serving military service to be en route with his rifle, albeit unloaded.[15]

Conditions for getting a Carrying Permit[edit]

There are three conditions:

  • fulfilling the conditions for buying a permit (see section above)
  • stating plausibly the need to carry firearms to protect oneself, other people, or real property from a specified danger
  • passing an examination proving both weapon handling skills and knowledge regarding lawful use of the weapon

The carrying permit remains valid for a term of five years (unless otherwise surrendered or revoked), and applies only to the type of firearm for which the permit was issued. Additional constraints may be invoked to modify any specific permit. Neither hunters nor game wardens require a carrying permit.[citation needed]

Transporting guns[edit]

Guns may be transported in public as long as an appropriate justification is present. This means to transport a gun in public, the following requirements apply:

  • The ammunition must be separated from the gun, no ammunition in a magazine.
  • The transport needs to be as direct as possible and needs a valid purpose:
    • For courses or exercises hosted by marksmanship, hunting or military organisations,
    • To an army warehouse and back,
    • To show the gun to a friend or a possible buyer
    • To and from a holder of a valid arms trade permit,
    • To and from a specific event, e.g. gun shows.[16]

Recreational shooting[edit]

Recreational shooting is widespread in Switzerland. Practice with guns is a popular form of recreation, and is encouraged by the government, particularly for the members of the militia.[17] Swiss firearms-related rights are supported by the organization ProTell.

200,000 people attend the annual Feldschiessen weekend, which is the largest rifle shooting competition in the world.[4][18] In addition, there are several private shooting ranges which rent guns.

Black powder[edit]

A Swiss 100 gram black powder container.

In Swiss gun shops, people can freely purchase black powder and modern black powder substitutes for use in firing historical rifles. The buyer must inform the vendor of their name and address.

Gun crime[edit]

Further information: Gun violence and Crime in Switzerland

Government statistics for the year 2010[19] records 40 homicides involving firearms, out of the 53 cases of homicide in 2010.

The annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population was 0.70, which is one of the lowest in the world.[20] However, the annual rate of homicide by guns per 100,000 population was 0.52, which is higher than neighboring countries'.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies (September 2007). "Small Arms Survey 2007" (PDF). Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-88039-8. 
  2. ^ "De-Quilling the Porcupine: Swiss Mull Tighter Gun Laws". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
  3. ^ "Switzerland rejects tighter gun controls". BBC News. 13 February 2011. 
  4. ^ a b David Kopel, American Rifleman (February 1990). ""What America can learn from Switzerland..."". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  5. ^ "Taschenmunition fast vollständig eingezogen". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 2 May 2011. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  6. ^ "20 Minuten - Schweizer Rekruten spielen Irak-Folterer - News". 20 Minuten. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  7. ^ Markus Steudler (7 July 2004). "Swiss Foreign and Security Policy Network document" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  8. ^ "Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-16. Table 18 on page 279 
  9. ^ "Bundesgesetz über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ "Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Switzerland". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  12. ^ "Youths use air gun to fire on Liberal members". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  13. ^ a b "Soldiers can keep guns at home but not ammo". SWI Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  14. ^ "514.54 Bundesgesetz über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition (Waffengesetz, WG)". (in German, French, and or Italian). The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation. 20 June 1997. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  15. ^ "514.10 Verordnung über die persönliche Ausrüstung der Armeeangehörigen (VPAA)". (in German, French, and or Italian). The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation. 5 December 2003. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  16. ^ Bundeskanzlei - P. "SR 514.541 Verordnung vom 2. Juli 2008 über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition (Waffenverordnung, WV)". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  17. ^ "THE LONG LIST OF "GUN-CONTROL" MYTHS rev. 1/5/98" (TXT). Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  18. ^ "The World's Largest Rifle Shooting Match: Switzerland 1995", The 1996 Precision Shooting Annual, Precision Shooting, Inc., (1996)
  19. ^ Switzerland. 2011. ‘Violent Infractions: Elucidations and Evolution of Infractions (Infractions de violence: Elucidations et Evolution des Infractions).’ Police Statistics on Crime Annual Report 2010 (Statistique Policière de la Criminalité Rapport Annuel 2010), p. 32. Neuchâtel: Office Fédéral de la Statistique / Département Fédéral de l'Intérieur. 1 January.
  20. ^ 'Calculated Rates – Switzerland.’ Historical Population Data – USCB International Data Base. Suitland, MD: US Census Bureau Population Division. 1 April.
  21. ^ Historical Population Data – USCB International Data Base. Suitland, MD: US Census Bureau Population Division. 1 April.

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