Gun Ownership in Switzerland

In 1995, Gun Owners of Vermont sent a letter to the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C., regarding gun ownership in Switzerland. The following is the text of that reply.

Gun Ownership in Switzerland

Traditionally, in Switzerland a great umber of firearms are in private hands. Among these are rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, pistols and revolvers. The issue of gun ownership is closely linked to the centuries-ol Swiss system and tradition of national defense. This explains why gun ownership is far less restricted in Switzerland than in the other European countries.

All Swiss men, with the exception of those with medical exemptions, serve in the army between the ages of 20 and 42 (52 for higher ranking officers). This compulsory military service is based on the traditional concept of the citizen-soldier. Women can join the army on a volunteer basis.

Members of the Swiss army keep their weapons – fully automatic assault rifles or pistols – and a small emergency supply of ammunition at home. According to the Swiss Constituition, upon completion of all required military service, the gun becomes the property of the individual soldier. Assault rifles are then transformed into semi-automatic weapons. Therefore, military-issue weapons, often generations old, are kept in Swiss households.

Every Swiss municipality has a rifle or pistol range, where members of the army train on a compulsory or volunteer basis while in civilian life. These ranges are open to all members of shooting associations. Many Swiss, from age 16 to very old veterans, train there not only in marksmanship, but also in safe and responsible handling of firearms. This includes the safe storage of weapons and ammunition at private residences.

Many privately purchased firearms are used for hunting or self-protection. Especially in the mountainous parts of the country, hunting is a very old right and popular tradition.

Firearms Legislation

Thus far, Switzerland has no federal gun law.Any abuse of a gun or ammunition belongin to the army is, however, severely prohibited.

In 1993, Swiss voters accepted a constitutional amendment. that authorizes parliament to pass a gun-abuse law aimed at rendering access to weapons more difficult for criminals. The new law will preserve the right of citizens to own guns, in particular Swiss military-issue weapons. It will most probably ban certain categories of weapons, for example fully automatic guns, and ammunition. The acquisition of firearms would be made subject to approval based on a record check, something that has been requested so far only for handguns and only on the basis of an agreement between the Cantons (States) and not of federal law. The right to carry a gun for other than hunting or training purposes would be made subject to proof of legitimate need. The access to gun purchases for non-resident foreigners would be made more difficult. The new law, once passed by parliament, could be subject to a new referendum.

Firearms and Crime

The use of firearms in crimes in Switzerland is relatively rare and recently ebven decreasing. In 1994, 68 guns were used in attempted or successful homicides, another 434 firearms in armed robberies.

Export and Import Regulations

Residents of the United States who want to purchase a firearm in Switzerland and export it or who want to bring a firearm into the country should contact the Federal Military Department, General Secretariat, Section War Material Control, 3003 Bern, Switzerland, directly to obtain information on applicable regulations. Two hunting or sporting rifles or breech-loading shotguns as well as one handgun (pistol or revolver) of a calibre smaller than 6.2 mm (for example .22 calibre) can be brought into the country without a permit, but must be reexported. 100 rounds per rifle or shotgun and 25 rounds per handgun (less than 6.2 mm) are equally admitted. Cantonal regulations on the carrying of arms must, however, at all times be observed.