By: José Niño
Switzerland has always stood out from its European counterparts when it comes to gun laws. The Swiss have a storied tradition of gun ownership that goes back to the Middle Ages and has been a unique feature of its political culture. Although gun ownership is tied to compulsory military service, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership on the planet.
Despite Switzerland’s relatively strong gun culture compared to its European neighbors, the country still has stiff gun control laws when juxtaposed to the United States. In fact, Swiss voters approved gun control restrictions last year that harmonized Switzerland’s gun laws with the European Union’s draconian standards. For example, so-called “military-style,” semi-automatic weapons are now subject to stringent regulations, while gun registration standards have been beefed-up.
The tide may be turning, however, now that right-wing Swiss politicians are calling for the relaxation of gun control laws following an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria perpetrated by a gunman who killed four people on November 2, 2020.
As mentioned before, gun ownership is laxer in Switzerland compared to the average European country, although gun owners in the Alpine country must have a permit to carry their firearms in public. Members of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Free Liberals (FDP) are now advocating for laws that allow gun owners to carry their firearms in public in light of these recent acts.
Several politicians, such as Nicolas Rimoldi of the FDP, went on Twitter and declared that “Free citizens must be able to defend themselves and their loved ones against terrorists: the right to carry arms now!”
Jean-Luc Addor, an SVP representative in Valais, introduced a similar measure in parliament in 2017 and hinted at introducing it again. He tweeted, “I brought this demand to the Parliament in 2017. At that time I was a lone voice. Do you think the new Parliament is ready for such an idea?”
According to The Local, a website that covers Swiss news in English, the current law in Switzerland calls for people to “flee, hide and alert (authorities)” during a terrorist attack. There are approximately 2.3 million firearms in Switzerland, which is a nation of 8.3 million people. Around 48 percent of Swiss households possess at least one firearm.
Although there exist federal regulations on gun ownership in Switzerland, the country is peculiar in that most of its firearm regulation is conducted at the canton level. Indeed, American Second Amendment rights are far broader than Swiss gun laws. That said, the very fact that Switzerland has some semblance of respect towards gun ownership is pretty extraordinary.
With calls to liberalize its gun laws during a time when Europe could be facing an upswing in terrorist acts, Switzerland could position itself as a leader for other European countries to follow. In addition, it can improve upon its current set of laws and strive to emulate America’s most pro-gun states by liberalizing its right to carry. Time will tell if the Swiss decide to make the relaxation of firearm ownership and carry a major political priority. If it’s successful in doing so, it could open up an unprecedented firearms policy discussion in the Old Continent.
José Niño is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Sign up for his mailing list here. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or email him at email@example.com. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control, here.