Gun laws in Switzerland
Firearms legislation in Switzerland is comparatively liberal, more similar to gun politics in the United States than to that in the European Union. The reason is a long tradition of shooting (tirs) as a formative element of national identity in the post-Napoleonic Restoration of the Confederacy, and the long-standing practice of a milita organisation of the Swiss Army in which soldiers's service rifles are stored privately at home. In addition to this, many cantons (notably the alpine cantons of Grisons and Valais) have strong traditions of hunting, accounting for a large but unknown number of privately held hunting rifles.
Switzerland thus has a relatively high gun ownership rate. There are no official statistics, and estimates vary considerably. The Small Arms Survey of 2007 placed Swiss gun ownership per capita at between 30% and 60%, with a 2014 estimate ranging as low as 25%. The rate of Swiss households containing at least one firearm was estimated at 29% by the 2004/5 report of the International Crime Victims Survey, at roughly two thirds of the rate in the United States, and roughly double that in the neighbouring countries of Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Gun ownership appears to have declined during the 2000s and early 2010s, and again surged after 2015.
Traditionally liberal Swiss gun legislation has, however, been somewhat tightened in 2008, when Switzerland has complied with European Union gun control requirements. Throughout the modern political history of Switzerland, there have been advocates for tighter gun control. The most recent suggestion for tighter gun control was rejected in a popular referendum in February 2011.
The applicable federal legislation is SR 514.54 (Waffengesetz WG) and SR 514.541 (Waffenverordnung WV). It allows the free purchase of semi-automatic, but not fully-automatic, firearms by Swiss citizens and foreigners with permanent residence. Permits for carrying in public are issued only restrictively.
Number of guns in circulation
Estimates of the number of guns in circulation is subject to large uncertainty, ranging between 1.2 and 4.5 million. As of 2014, there were no reliable federal statistics, because gun registration is the responsibility of the individual cantons, with especially rural cantons with a tradition of hunting and shooting following more lax policies than urban cantons. The 2005 International Crime Victims Survey cites estimates of 10% of Swiss households containing handguns, and 29% containing any type of firearm (compared to rates of 18% and 43%, respectively, in the United States).
The Blick newspaper in 2014 collected the total number of registered guns from the cantonal authorities, citing a total of 800,000 registered private guns, and a total of 455,000 federally registered military guns held by private citizens. The article notes that the rural cantons with traditions of hunting and shooting show up as having a lower gun ownership rate than the urban cantons. The number of 800,000 registered guns is significantly lower than actual gun ownership, because in many cantons this number includes only the guns acquired over the past few years, with an unknown number of guns acquired before the introduction of central registers still in circulation. For this reason, estimates of gun ownership rate vary widely between roughly 30% to 60% for the 2000s. The 2014 Blick article cites an estimate by Peter Hug, gun politics expert of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, of roughly 2 million guns in circulation, equivalent to a gun ownership rate of roughly 25%.
Switzerland's Weapons Law (WG, LArm) and Weapons Act (WV, OArm) has been revised to accede to the Schengen Treaty effective 12 December 2008. The Act on Personal Military Equipement (VPAA, OEPM) regulates the handling of military equipement, and in particular the handling of personal weapons by military personnel.
The law is applied to the following weapons:
- Firearms, such as pistols, revolvers, rifles, pump guns (German: Vorderschaftrepetierer), lever-action rifles, self-loading guns (shotguns and rifles);
- Air and CO2 guns with muzzle energy of at least 7.5 joules, or if there is risk of confusion with a firearm;
- Imitation, alarm gun (German: Schreckschuss) and soft-air guns when there is risk of confusion with a firearm;
- Butterfly knives, throwing knives, knife-handed operation with automatic mechanism with total length greater than 12 cm and blade length greater than 5 cm;
- Daggers with symmetrical blade is less than 30 cm;
- Devices that are intended to hurt people like rod (German: Schlagrute), throwing star, brass knuckles, slings with armrest;
- all electric shock devices and spray products with irritants in Annex 2 weapons Regulation (WV), except for pepper spray.
Generally prohibited arms are:
- Automatic firearms such as machine guns, etc.
- Automatic knife when the blade more than 5 cm and total length of more than 12 cm
- Butterfly knife when the blade more than 5 cm and total length of more than 12 cm
- Throwing knives; regardless of the shape and size
- Symmetrical daggers when blade length less than 30 cm
- Brass knuckles
- Shock rods
- Throwing Stars
- Buttstock-equipped slingshots German: Schleudern mit Armstütze
- Stun guns
- Weapons that imitate an object of utility, such as shooting phones.
In order to purchase most weapons, the purchaser must obtain a weapon acquisition permit (Art. 8 WG). Swiss citizens and foreigners with a C permit 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. Foreigners with the following citizenship are explicitly excluded from the right to possess weapons: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania. The following information must be provided to the cantonal weapon bureau together with the weapon application form:
- valid official identification or passport copy
- residence address
- criminal record copy not older than 3 months
For each transfer of a weapon or an essential weapon component without weapons acquisition permit (Art. 10 WG), a written contract must be concluded. Each Party shall keep them at least ten years. The contract must include the following information (Art. 11 WG):
- Family name, first name, birth date, residence address and signature of the person who sells the weapon or essential weapon component
- Family name, first name, birth date, residence address and signature of the person who purchases the weapon or an essential weapon component
- Kind of weapon, manufacturer or producer, label, caliber, weapon number, and date and place of transfer;
- Type and number of official identification of the person who acquires the weapon or the essential weapon component
This information must be sent within 30 days to the cantonal weapon registration bureau, where the weapon holders are registered (Art. 9 WG).
Some weapons do not need a weapon acquisition permit (Art. 10 WG):
- Single-shot and multi-barreled hunting rifles and replicas of single-shot muzzle
- By the Federal Council designated hand bolt-action rifles, which are commonly used in off-duty and sporting gunnery recognized by the military law of 3 February 1952 and shooting clubs for hunting purposes in Switzerland
- Single-shot rabbit slayer;
- Compressed air and CO2 weapons that develop a muzzle energy of at least 7.5 joules, or may be confused because of their appearance with real firearms
In order to purchase ammunition the buyer must follow the same legal rules that apply to buying guns. The buyer can only buy munition for guns that he/she legally owns and must provide the following information to the seller (Art. 15, 16 WG; Art 24 WV):
- valid official identification or passport (and must be older than 18 and who are not psychiatrically disqualified nor identified as posing security problems, and must not be a citizen of the following countries (Art. 12 WV): Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania)
- residence address
- criminal record copy not older than 3 months
- weapon acquisition permit not older than 2 years, or a weapon carrying permit not older than 5 years
This also applies for weapons which do not require a weapon acquisition permit (see above, excluding the weapon acquisition permit, of course).
This information must be sent within 30 days to the cantonal weapon registration bureau, where the weapon holder is registered.
The same applies to black powder and modern black powder substitutes for use in firing historical rifles.
The possession of the following munition is generally prohibited:
- Ammunition with armor-piercing bullets
- Ammunition with projectiles containing an explosive or incendiary device
- Ammunition with one or more floors to the release of substances which damage the health of people in the long run
- Ammunition, missiles and missile launchers for military explosive
- Ammunition with projectiles for transmitting electric shocks
- Ammunition for handguns with deformation effect
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 gun carrying permit (German: Waffentragbewilligung), which in most cases is issued only to private citizens working in occupations such as security. It is, however, quite common to see a person serving military service to be en route with his rifle, albeit unloaded. The issue of such exceptional permits are extremely selective.
Conditions for getting a Carrying Permit
There are three conditions:
- fulfilling the conditions for a buying 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 for single-shot and multi-barreled hunting rifles (Art. 17 WV).
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:
Army-issued arms and ammunition collection
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 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).
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.
In October 2007, the Swiss Federal Council decided that the distribution of ammunition to soldiers would stop and that previously issued ammo would be returned. By March 2011, more than 99% of the ammo has been received. 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.
When their period of service has ended, militia men have the choice of keeping their personal weapon and other selected items of their equipment. However, keeping the weapon after end of service requires a weapon acquisition permit (Art. 11-15 VPAA).
The government sponsors training with rifles and shooting in competitions for interested adolescents, both male and female. 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 Federal Council licensed shooting ranges. That ammunition sold at ranges must be immediately used there under supervision (Art. 16 WG).
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.
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.
Prior to the turn of the century, about 200,000 people used to attend the annual Feldschiessen, which is the largest rifle shooting competition in the world. In 2012 they counted 130,000 participants. For the 2015 Federal Shooting (Eidg. Schützenfest) 37,000 shooters are registered. In addition, there are several private shooting ranges which rent guns.
Gun culture in Switzerland
Switzerland has a strong gun culture compared to other countries in the world. Groups like ProTell lobby for the preservation of Switzerland's gun rights. Additionally, the Schweizerischer Schützenverein, a Swiss shooting association, organizes the Eidgenössische Schützenfeste, currently in intervals of five years.
In 2014 there were 173 attempted and completed homicides, of which 18 involved firearms (10.4%). 41 of them were completed, therefore Switzerland had a murder rate of 0.49 per 100,000 population, the lowest raw figure and lowest rate for 33 years, since the start of the nationwide coordinated collection of statistical data, despite a 27% growth in population (from 6.4 million to 8.1 million) over the same period.
- Julie Hartley-Moore, "The Song of Gryon: Political Ritual, Local Identity, and the Consolidation of Nationalism in Multiethnic Switzerland", Journal of American Folklore 120.476 (2007) 204–229, citing Kohn Hans Kohn, Nationalism and Liberty: The Swiss Example. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956, p. 78.
- Between 2.3 and 4.4 million in a population of 7.34 million. Keith Krause, Eric G. Berman, ed. (September 2007). "Small Arms Survey 2007" (PDF). Geneva, Switzerland: The Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. ISBN 978-0-521-88039-8., citing “Switzerland: Public uncertainty and expert biases,” Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Ch. 2, pp. 54- 55.
- Adrian Meyer (18 February 2014). "Waffenkammer Schweiz: So viele Waffen liegen bei Schweizern zu Hause" (in German). Zurich, switzerland: Blick. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
Damit kämen in der Schweiz rund 250 Waffen auf 1000 Einwohner.
- "Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective" (PDF). Den Haag, Netherlands: ICVS, Ministry of Security and Justice. Retrieved 2015-03-16.
Table 18 on page 279
- Schweizer kaufen mehr Waffen für zu Hause, Tages-Anzeiger, 31 December 2015.
- "De-Quilling the Porcupine: Swiss Mull Tighter Gun Laws". Der Spiegel. Hamburg, Germany. 2 May 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2011.
- "Switzerland rejects tighter gun controls". BBC News. 13 February 2011. Retrieved 2015-08-26.. "Abstimmungen – Indikatoren: Eidgenössische Volksabstimmung vom 13. Februar 2011 – Volksinitiative «Für den Schutz vor Waffengewalt»" (official site). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO). 13 February 2011. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
- "SR 514.54 Bundesgesetz über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition (Waffengesetz WG)" (in German, Italian, and French). Berne, Switzerland: The Swiss Federal Council. 1 January 2013. Retrieved 2015-06-21.
- "SR 514.541 Verordnung über Waffen, Waffenzubehör und Munition (Waffenverordnung WV)" (in German, Italian, and French). Berne, Switzerland: The Swiss Federal Council. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 2015-06-21.
- The law of 1998 (SR 514.54) made explicit provision for the Federal Council to restrict gun ownership by nationality. SR 514.541 Art. 11, passed in 2008, explicitly prohibits the purchase or ownership of weapons to nationals of ten states (the successor states of Former Yugoslavia except for Slovenia, plus Albania, Turkey, Algeria and Sri Lanka.
- SR 514.54 Art. 27.2. No carry permit is necessary for hunting rifles carried in the context of hunting or gamekeeping, and historical firearms carried in the context of re-enactment or memorial events.
- "SR 514.10 Verordnung über die persönliche Ausrüstung der Armeeangehörigen (VPAA)" (in German, French, and Italian). The Swiss Federal Council. 5 December 2003. Retrieved 2014-01-19.
- "Soldiers can keep guns at home but not ammo". SWI Swissinfo.ch, a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2015-03-16.
- "Taschenmunition fast vollständig eingezogen". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Zurich, Switzerland. 2 May 2011. Retrieved 2015-03-16.
- Patrick Marbach (15 August 2005). "Schweizer Rekruten spielen Irak-Folterer". 20 Minuten (in German). Zurich, Switzerland. Retrieved 2015-03-16.
- "Feldschiessen". Lebendige Traditionen. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
- Giannis Mavris (4 July 2015). "Familienausflug mit dem Sturmgewehr". Neuste Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) (in German). Zurich, Switzerland. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
- Bachmann, Helena (December 20, 2012). "The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works". TIME. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
- Nelson, Soraya Sarhaddi (March 19, 2013). "What's Worked, And What Hasn't, In Gun-Loving Switzerland". NPR. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
- "Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik (PKS) - Jahresbericht 2014" (PDF) (official federal site) (in German, French, and Italian). Swiss Federal Statistical Office; Konferenz der kantonalen Justiz- und Polizeidirektoren. 23 March 2015. pp. 13, 34–38. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
- Ordonnance fédérale sur les armes, les accessoires d’armes et les munitions Swiss federal application law on weapons, weapon accessories and ammunition.
- Swiss Portal for hunting and fishing
- proTELL website
- Firearms Training Company with Swiss Protell membership
- Bearing arms in Switzerland.
- a well organized pro-army and pro-gun rights association in Southern Switzerland