Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership, but no mass shootings

Daniel Wyss, the president of the Swiss weapons-dealers association, in a gun shop.REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Switzerland hasn’t had a mass shooting since 2001, when a man stormed the local parliament in Zug, killing 14 people and then himself.

The country has about 2 million privately owned guns in a nation of 8.3 million people. In 2016, the country had 47 attempted homicides with firearms. The country’s overall murder rate is near zero.

The National Rifle Association often points to Switzerland to argue that more rules on gun ownership aren’t necessary. In 2016, the NRA said on its blog that the European country had one of the lowest murder rates in the world while still having millions of privately owned guns and a few hunting weapons that don’t even require a permit.

But the Swiss have some specific rules and regulations for gun use.

Insider took a look at the country’s past with guns to see why it has lower rates of gun violence than the US, where gun-death rates are now at their highest in more than 20 years, and the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.

Switzerland is obsessed with getting shooting right. Every year, it holds a shooting contest for kids aged 13 to 17.

Knabenschiessen swiss guns
Wikimedia Creative Commons

Zurich’s Knabenschiessen is a traditional annual festival that dates back to the 1600s.

Though the word roughly translates to “boys shooting” and the competition used to be only boys, teenage girls have been allowed in since 1991.

Kids in the country flock to the competition every September to compete in target shooting using Swiss army-service rifles. They’re proud to show off how well they can shoot.

The competition values accuracy above all else, and officials crown a Schutzenkonig — a king or queen of marksmen — based on results.

Having an armed citizenry helped keep the Swiss neutral for more than 200 years.

swiss herders
Alpine herdsmen in Toggenburg, Switzerland.Keystone/Getty Images

The Swiss stance is one of “armed neutrality.”

Switzerland hasn’t taken part in any international armed conflict since 1815, but some Swiss soldiers help with peacekeeping missions around the world.

Many Swiss see gun ownership as part of a patriotic duty to protect their homeland.

Most Swiss men are required to learn how to use a gun.

Swiss President Ueli Maurer shooting guns switzerland
Swiss President Ueli Maurer pauses during a shooting-skills exercise — a several-hundred-year-old tradition — with the Foreign Diplomatic Corps in Switzerland on May 31, 2013.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Unlike the US, Switzerland has mandatory military service for men.

The government gives all men between the ages of 18 and 34 deemed “fit for service” a pistol or a rifle and training on how to use them.

After they’ve finished their service, the men can typically buy and keep their service weapons, but they have to get a permit for them.

In recent years, the Swiss government has voted to reduce the size of the country’s armed forces.

Switzerland is a bit like a well-designed fort.

swiss bunkers
Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Switzerland’s borders are basically designed to blow up on command, with at least 3,000 demolition points on bridges, roads, rails, and tunnels around the landlocked European country.

John McPhee put it this way in his book “La Place de la Concorde Suisse”:

“Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them.”

Roughly a quarter of the gun-toting Swiss use their weapons for military or police duty.



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