WAPO: "An Armory in Gun-Shy Europe"


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jfh
April 29, 2007, 02:45 PM
The Washington Post does a non-newsworthy article on the current status of gun control in Switzerland:

Here's the link--http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042900133.html?hpid=topnews

and here's the text:

An Armory in Gun-Shy Europe
Switzerland Weighs Curbs on Culture of Firearm Ownership

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 29, 2007

ZUG, Switzerland -- Evening rush hour at the train station: men in suits, a woman carrying a cello, kids lugging snowboards. Markus Marschall, a university engineering student, walked through the bustle wearing an orange T-shirt, leather jacket and aviator sunglasses -- and a Sturmgewehr 90 automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder.

"It's perfectly normal," said Marschall, 25, who carried the olive-green rifle, issued to him by the Swiss military, on a canvas strap as casually as he might carry a tennis racket. Nobody gave him a second glance.

Switzerland, a country of 7.5 million people with an estimated 2 million or more guns in circulation, sits as a heavily armed exception in the heart of Europe, where most countries have strict gun-control laws. Virtually all able-bodied Swiss men are required to serve in the military, which issues them assault rifles or pistols, or both, which they store at home and keep when they leave the service.

At a time when the Virginia Tech killings are stirring debate about U.S. gun laws, Switzerland is also weighing new curbs on a robust culture of gun ownership that dates back centuries. Parliament is considering a measure to ban the keeping of ammunition at home. Opposition politicians, backed by a leading women's magazine, are campaigning to get guns and ammunition out of Swiss homes to be stored in gun clubs and military armories.

"If you have a gun in the home, the risk of death is higher than if you don't have a gun at home -- very simple," said Manuela Weichelt-Picard, an elected official and survivor of this country's worst gun slaughter, in which a man with a rifle killed 14 people and himself at a local government meeting in this lakeside city south of Zurich in September 2001. Swiss anti-gun activists saw the Virginia Tech shootings demonstrate all over again the danger of easy access to firearms.

Gun advocates argue that stricter controls would violate age-old Swiss tradition, would not deter crime and would not have prevented the Zug massacre. "No gun law will ever stop the crazy man from doing outrageous things," said Ferdinand Hediger of Pro Tell, a gun owners' association.

Anti-gun activists said they were pessimistic about winning major gun-law changes in a country where guns are a commonly accepted part of life. Each spring, more than 200,000 people take part in a national target-shooting competition staged in nearly every village in the country. Hediger of Pro Tell -- named for William Tell, the legendary Swiss character who with bow and arrow shot an apple from his son's head -- said Swiss shooters fire 70 million rounds of ammunition each year, nearly 10 bullets for every citizen. (emphasis added by poster.)

But a poll published Sunday in a national newspaper, SonntagsBlick, found that 65 percent of 1,200 Swiss surveyed were opposed to storing military guns at home, with 76 percent saying it was not "necessary for the army's mission." Although 54 percent said Switzerland's high rate of gun ownership made the country "less safe," 60 percent said that changes in laws would not stop gun violence in Swiss homes.

No one knows exactly how many guns are in Switzerland -- estimates reach 3 million or more -- in part because military guns have been passed down through generations. The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates that the country has 46 guns per 100 people, which puts it behind only the United States, with 90 guns per 100 people; Yemen, with 61; and Finland, with 56 -- and just ahead of Iraq with 39.

Hediger, of Pro Tell, estimated that at least half of Swiss homes have a gun tucked away somewhere. Marschall, a full-time student and Swiss Army militiaman, said he keeps his rifle in a bedroom closet with "T-shirts and sports equipment" and a sealed canister of 50 military-issued bullets. He was on his way to the annual shooting practice required of all 200,000 soldiers and reservists.

A gun for every man is the basis of a generations-old defense doctrine in the tiny, traditionally neutral country. Swiss officials call it the "porcupine" approach: Switzerland may be small, but weapons in basements and attics in every Alpine village act as millions of quills to deter invaders.

"An army should be ready as soon as possible, so soldiers should have weapons and ammunition at home -- this is our tradition," said Ulrich Schluer, a national legislator who serves on a commission on security. Many Swiss feel the policy served them well during World War II, when their country largely escaped the conflagration that consumed most of Europe.

According to Swiss police, there were 204 homicides in Switzerland in 2005, including 48 that involved guns. That is about the same number of gun-related killings as took place last year in England and Wales, which have strict gun control and a population seven times the size of Switzerland's.

According to a 25-nation survey by the International Action Network on Small Arms, a British-based organization against gun violence, Switzerland's total number of gun deaths, including accidents, in 2005 was 6.2 per 100,000 citizens, which was second only to the U.S. rate of 9.42 per 100,000. Switzerland's rate of gun deaths was more than double that of 18 of the countries surveyed, including neighbors Germany and Italy.

Schluer and other gun advocates attributed much of the violence to criminals who obtain weapons illegally.

But gun-control proponents here contend that guns kept at home are used increasingly in suicides; according to government figures, there were 271 suicides by firearm in Switzerland in 2004 out of a total of 1,283.

Annabelle, a Swiss women's magazine, reported that there were at least eight cases in the country last year of men shooting their wives or children, then themselves. These included the murder of international ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet by her husband, who then shot himself. To highlight the problem, the magazine printed posters showing a happy Swiss family: mom with a baby, a young boy in dress clothes and a beaming dad wearing a tie and holding his assault rifle uncomfortably close to his wife's face.

"We don't know any woman who wants a weapon in the house," said Lisa Feldmann, the magazine's editor. "Women and the younger generation think this is crazy."

Although there was a national debate, Switzerland did not make any major changes to its gun laws after the massacre in Zug, a picturesque town of about 24,000 on the shores of a placid lake that bears the same name.

"I don't know how many people have to die before things change," said Weichelt-Picard, who was in the room during the Zug killings and helped tend to the dead and wounded, all of whom she knew. "There are too many people in our world who can't handle a gun in moments where they are angry or upset."

Weichelt-Picard said her first reaction to the news about Virginia Tech was, "Oh no, not again." She said she was in trauma therapy for months after the shooting here.

Simone Hinnen, 35, one of 14 people wounded in the shootings, still wears an elastic bandage over the scarring on her right lower leg and, after a half-dozen operations, still has trouble walking. Hinnen said that stricter gun laws would not have stopped the Zug shooter, who used privately purchased guns, but that guns stored at home often lead to family violence.

"I understand people who say this is our history," she said. "But for the younger generation, I think it's different. It should be forbidden to have a gun at home."

On Friday afternoon, Marcel Brunschwiler, 34, a business consultant, ate lunch in a sunny plaza next to the building where the Zug shootings happened. He said that while Switzerland and the United States are world leaders in gun ownership, gun-related killings are in his view far more common in the United States. He blamed that partly on violent American television shows such as "24," which he watches avidly.

"Kids in America watch these shows and think, 'I just have to kill this guy and the problem's solved,' " Brunschwiler said. "We have a completely different way of thinking."

Brunschwiler said he owns a 9mm pistol, which he keeps in a drawer with his CDs.

COMMENT: I traveled extensively to Switzerland--over 30 times, typically on business and vacation--between 1969 and 1990. My 'home base' there was in Lausanne--downtown Lausanne. The place felt totally safe, any time day or night.

Do keep in mind that every firearm is registered, however--the government knows where and what it is.

Tell me, do we recognize the tactics of the controllers, so to speak?

Jim H.

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mnrivrat
April 29, 2007, 03:26 PM
Sure is the same old anti-gun theme used everywhere. People (mostly male people) can not be trusted with firearms .

"We don't know any woman who wants a weapon in the house," said Lisa Feldmann, the magazine's editor. "Women and the younger generation think this is crazy."

An interesting observation ,and although I hesitate to bring this up (for somewhat obvious reasons) I do wonder how much of the anti-firearm crowd is comprised of female and recently (last few decades) anti-gun indoctrinated youth.

It would seem that from area's where the population is dense there is also a anti-gun mindset that prevails. (large cities) Possibly because that is where crime is more concentrated ?

Tell me, do we recognize the tactics of the controllers, so to speak?

Yes - without a doubt

Fosbery
April 29, 2007, 04:06 PM
Do keep in mind that every firearm is registered, however--the government knows where and what it is.

Not true. Only military weapons are registered with the government (or rather, with the army). Private arms are only registered with the dealer they were bought from i.e. they are not entered in any sort of government database.

I think a contributing factor to the problem of the growing anti-gun movement in Switzerland is that young people resent having to serve in the armed forces. In years past, getting to go to boot camp and shoot guns was an exciting adventure. Nowadays, young men will often rather go out clubbing or watch sports all day. Their rifle is a symbol of, what they see, as some knid of opression. If only they realised it is the exact opposite!

It would seem that from area's where the population is dense there is also a anti-gun mindset that prevails. (large cities) Possibly because that is where crime is more concentrated ?

Basically, crime does not exist in Switzerland - be it in cities or in the countryside. Fantastic place, only spoiled by the language (which isn't English) and some rather draconian policing.

another okie
April 29, 2007, 06:05 PM
This "objective" article fails to mention that the shooter in the Zug case was not in the Swiss army and the weapon was not an army issue weapon.

Soybomb
April 29, 2007, 07:09 PM
Many Swiss feel the policy served them well during World War II, when their country largely escaped the conflagration that consumed most of Europe.

"I understand people who say this is our history," she said. "But for the younger generation, I think it's different. It should be forbidden to have a gun at home."
Its cliche but santayana's quote sure still holds true.

Bezoar
April 29, 2007, 10:37 PM
Its a ploy to help bring Switzerland into the "Your-a-PEON" Union that is now europe. Switzerland has been used as a good safe pro-gun model, and if the EU can get rid of it, it will make it so much easier for the UN/EU sponsored disarmament programs to be implemented worldwide.
UN wants to make laws that outlaw storage of over a pound of black powder in the home. While the swiss can make their own legally and use it for non-shooting match shooting fun.

Then you have the fact that the only actual wars in europe are the civil wars in old Yugoslavia and Chechnya, In the last 16 years of no soviet union, adn with the anti-gun indoctrination the youth see no reason to have guns at home, they no longer see itas a patriotic duty since the baddies arent coming anywhere near switzerland.

Croyance
April 30, 2007, 01:28 AM
An average of 10 bullets per person per year (remembering that many aren't of military age) is still low.

MD_Willington
April 30, 2007, 11:59 AM
only 10, that is low... my wife does not shoot a lot, and has not shot since she found out she was pregnant in March, but she has already gone through 500 rounds of .22LR and keeps asking me when am I going to pick up a "plinker" for her.

Titan6
April 30, 2007, 12:32 PM
I guess they can give up their guns if they want. They will get so much more in return. Higher crime, a less secure country, an invading army, a dictatorship of some type... all these things are possible.

cbsbyte
April 30, 2007, 12:52 PM
I know an older Swiss couple who moved to this country over forty years ago, and raised a family in this country. Even though the father has not owned nor fired a gun since he left Switzerland, he still strongly believes in citizen gun ownership, and the right for self protection. Though He does agree with some gun control such as registration of all firearms, and detailed background checks similar to Switzerland laws.

Afy
May 1, 2007, 05:07 AM
Actually if you look at Europe with the exception of the UK most places gun laws are not draconian.

However gun and ammo prices are rediculously high. Average cost of rifle ammunition is above $1.3 a round:cuss:

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