Swiss Gun Laws as I Understand Them.

I’m writing a story set in Switzerland and have been looking into rules and customs to make it more accurate. I just came on some interesting facts.

Firstly, if you think this country is full of state’s-prerogative people, we don’t hold a candle to the cantons of Switzerland. A relatively small country (around 7.9 million), it has a lot more direct democracy and fairly reduced federal power. It’s more like a convention of states rather than a traditional strong centralized government.

Yet, in the last twenty years, there has been a push to standardize gun registration and ownership laws. According to the Law Library of Congress: “Until 1999, the handling of weapons suitable for private possession was regulated at the cantonal level, and some of the cantons had very permissive gun-control regimes… In the early 1990s, however, the crime rate increased, and Swiss guns were frequently implicated in the European terrorist scene and in the wars that ravaged former Yugoslavia.” External and internal pressure grew to get some control over the problem. This is perhaps one of the few times federal laws were allowed to trump cantonal prerogative.

Swiss gun laws are fascinating. They are both liberal and strict, which sounds like an oxymoron, I know.  They allow you to keep a gun at home and use it for hunting and at gun clubs. Generally, people only have one, though hunters might have more.

With the country moving closer to European Union (EU) weapons requirements, the syncing up of cantonal rules made sense. (Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, but they do participate in border-free travel and trade. Though they get some exemptions from EU’s strict gun laws, they have to comply with others for the border-free aspects to work.)

Normally, a person will apply for an “acquisition” permit. After he or she has shown they have no previous criminal record of violence (and no multiple non-violent crimes), no likelihood to hurt themselves or others (which may involve a psychiatric examination), and that they know how to use a gun, they can be approved. Fascinatingly, the license is valid for 6-9 MONTHS! This way, if the owner’s situation changes, their license can be revoked.

People with drug and alcohol problems can’t own guns. (Yeah, I know, DUH!) People with past history of violent crimes (or multiple non-violent crimes) can’t own guns. That means a former convict might be able to own a gun depending on his crime, doesn’t it? An interesting idea.

The gun-sellers’ association seems to be okay with the purchase laws and encourages (possibly requires) their members to comply. I wish the NRA would have such an attitude; they used to.

You can’t carry a loaded gun outside your house or gun club unless you have a very-hard-to-get carrying license. These will be granted only if the applicant is qualified to acquire guns; demonstrates a need for the weapon to protect himself, others, or property against “existing dangers”; and has passed an exam to test his required theoretical knowledge (rules, regulations policies, procedures, and gun security and safety rules) and practical skill (ability to shoot, load, unload, etc.).

I wonder if the “existing dangers” can include psycho boyfriends and abusive husbands. That might work better than a protection order.

Certain hunting guns in rural areas might be exempt, but absolutely nothing on the streets. If you have to carry a gun out of your house, it must be unloaded with the ammunition safely stowed. I don’t think you can enter a business with a gun at all, so grab your Starbucks coffee before you leave your house or gun club with a weapon.

In 2016 the Swiss instituted a cantonal firearms registry. This allowed the cantons to check the registers of other cantons in one place, rather than contacting each canton separately. A time-saving measure, to be sure.

I believe, using this or another database, they can check to see if an applicant was denied an acquisition license anywhere else. If police or the military have a problem, they can find it. There are plans for better communication on criminal matters between the police and military, so the military can confiscate guns from dangerous militiamen.

With the registry system, the police in each canton can find out what guns an individual owns, no matter where they bought them. This lets the cantonal police check to see if someone owns a firearm and what kind before they make a move to talk to, arrest or confront someone (an “intervention”, as they call it).

Only the current owner of the gun is mentioned in the register, and sales between individuals can be, but aren’t required to be, registered. This database makes it a good thing to register transactions like this, since the seller is no longer officially associated with the gun. However, to register a private sale, they must have written permission from the buyer.

The cops carry hand guns. Only special units get the long-range and multi-fire ones. Some cantons are training average police in the use of these other weapons so they can be ready in “an extreme emergency.”

I haven’t found record of Swiss police “shooting a suspect” incidents (must admit, I didn’t look since it wasn’t relevant to my story). It sounds like lethal force is strongly discouraged, but I’m not sure. They do allow cops to shoot fleeing suspects, along with a few other “extreme situations”, but I don’t know about tendencies toward lethal force.

Recruits have to go through a number of tests to prove they are competent and safe to use weapons. Apparently both the police and military can use psychology exams to assure they aren’t giving guns to people dangerous to themselves and others. A wise move, IMO.

Recently, the transit police were allowed to carry guns, because some people were getting violent against transit staff in stations and customers on the trains.  Before that, they only had pepper-spray… which is wise in a closed-in crowded place like a train, if you think about it. Less chance of collateral damage.

In Switzerland, military service is mandatory for male adults. Women can serve on a voluntary basis. These troops are allowed to keep their weapons at home when on leave and can buy them when their stint is over. It is not required, since the units have armories to store them, and apparently the numbers that take it home has been dropping.

There was a study that showed that the reduction in the number of soldiers and police taking their guns home was linked to a reduction in the suicide-by-gun rate (most victims of whom are soldiers, former soldiers and current/former police officers). Apparently the closeness of temptation seems to be a factor. There was a push to make it mandatory that ammunition be kept in the armory, though that seems a little counterproductive to me.

One last thing. Though each canton has a lot of independence and often fiercely protects that freedom from outside forces (see, federal government), the citizens do identify with the whole country as their home to some extent. They see gun ownership as a civic duty and a responsibility. Many say they have guns to protect their home (meaning both canton and country, I think) against invasion. And if there’s one thing Switzerland is obsessive about, it’s protecting itself from invasion and defending its centuries-old neutrality. (Maybe I’ll get into an explanation of how seriously Switzerland takes self-defense at another time. LOL!)

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