Are the Swiss Required to Own Guns?
Myth

Switzerland requires its citizens to own guns.

Does Switzerland Require Everyone to Own a Gun? – Mandatory Military Service and Gun Rights in Switzerland

Switzerland doesn’t require its citizens to own guns. In Switzerland, guns are regulated in three classes and there is mandatory military service for able-bodied men.[1][2][3][4][5]

Meanwhile,

  • Women may volunteer for military service (and will thus have access to training in a state-issued firearm).
  • Those declared unfit for service are exempt from service (exemptions are common, especially in urban areas; although being exempted can result in paying a higher income tax in some cases).[6]
  • Those who do go into the service are issued a weapon. They can choose to buy the firearm after their service (this is the closest thing to “everyone being required to own a gun” that exists in Switzerland).
  • Hunting weapons, self-defense weapons, and “more lethal” weapons are treated differently (each “class of weapons” is treated differently). You can see a basic overview of this on Wikipedia’s page on regulation on weapons and ammo in Switzerland; or, see a full overview on admin.ch’s Regulation on Arms, Equipment for Arms and Ammunition (you’ll need to translate the page into English).
  • Background checks are required.
  • And, many other rules apply including: the banning of high-powered weapons (part of a banned class of guns for civilians), an ability to disarm citizens, bans of immigrants and criminals owning guns, and other general restrictions and regulations. See more rules below.

The result is, that while gun ownership is not mandatory in Switzerland, both ownership and training are common. The Swiss therefore can be said to have a gun culture focused on responsible gun ownership and collective gun rights for qualifying citizens.

A video about the gun rules and regulations in Switzerland. This is the best video of the lot; check it out.

FACT: Gun ownership is high in Switzerland, at approximately .5 guns per person. About 30% of Swiss citizens own guns. Military issued firearms may be purchased from the government after service, and then the gun is converted to a non-assault weapon. Restrictions can be placed on both the firearm and its ammunition. Put simply, the idea that the Swiss are required to own firearms and the idea that all Swiss own firearms are myths.

The Idealization of Swiss Gun Culture. Does Swiss Gun Culture Work?

Switzerland’s gun laws arguably work well (at least in terms of simple metrics like pairing high ownership rates with low gun-related crime),[7][8] showing that the right to bear arms can be paired with reasonable laws without hampering public safety or personal rights.

However, with that in mind, Switzerland’s gun culture is commonly admired by other countries for the wrong reasons.

One can argue that Swiss gun culture works well, not because it respects the right to keep and bear arms alone, but because it takes regulation, responsible gun ownership, and the concept of a well-regulated militia seriously regarding both services to the state and gun control.

Below we discuss the basics of Swiss gun culture. Make sure to check out the videos featuring Swiss citizens explaining their gun culture in their words.

Clarifications on the concept of a well-regulated militia as it relates to the Swiss Armed Forces: The Swiss Armed Forces is a standing army comprised of some active duty soldiers and many conscripts and volunteers (AKA “militiamen”). This has parallels with the militias of the U.S. Second Amendment, in terms of having conscripts and volunteers trained and ready to be called on to secure a free state, but it is not exactly the same as “a militia” (just like the U.S. National Guard is the reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces, but one wouldn’t call the Guard or Armed Forces as a whole “a militia” despite the Guard’s own parallels). With that said, article 58 of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999 literally refers to the Swiss Army as a militia “Switzerland shall have armed forces. In principle, the armed forces shall be organised as a militia” (or at least this is how it reads when translated into English). Thus, like the U.S. gaurd is part of the military, the conscripted militiaman are part of the Swiss Armed Forces (and since they are a trained and ready or “working and well-regulated” militia with “the right to keep and bear,” they also fit well the description of a militia in the U.S. Second Amendment).[9]

FACT: Although firearm related crimes per-capita are low in Switzerland considering the high level of firearm ownership, firearm related suicides per-capita in Switzerland are rather high. Of course in countries where gun ownership are common this would be the case (it is in the U.S. as well), but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy. A simple place to look at this data is Wikipedia’s “List of countries by firearm-related death rate,” but the data can also be found in studies like “Epidemiologie von Suiziden, Suizidversuchen und assistierten Suiziden in der Schweiz – April 2015” (which, when translated, presents statistics on suicide rates in Switzerland). Looking at data like this can help offer insight into the somewhat subjective topic of “does Swiss gun culture work?”[10][11]

TIP: Discovering the exact number of guns owned in Switzerland is nearly impossible as they don’t need to register hunting weapons. About 30-40% have illicit and registered firearms, and about 75% own a hunting rifle as a reasonable estimate. Learn more at GunPolicy.org – Switzerland.

Why Switzerland Has The Lowest Crime Rate In The World. Notice the collectivist gun culture displayed in this pro-gun video. The concept is a defense of the state enforced by the state’s rule-set, not personal defense from other citizens or the state. This is the difference between the U.S. and Switzerland.

CONSIDER: In the U.S. we take an individualist stance focusing on our rights to bear and keep arms and our right to self-defense. In Switzerland, one could argue that individual rights come second to collective rights related to a well-regulated militia in defense of the state.

TIP: As you may have imagined the meme contrasting Honduras and Switzerland’s gun laws is wrong on many levels.[12]

Switzerland Gun Regulations

Switzerland is often used as an example by those against gun control laws to show how gun ownership benefits a state.

However, this is often paired with a general misunderstanding of Swiss culture (generally those who use “the Switzerland argument” imply that gun ownership in Switzerland comes with little-to-no rules or with mandatory ownership; which isn’t the case).

Switzerland’s gun laws are rather strict, including three classes of weapons and ammunition with varying degrees of restrictions, mandatory background checks per-purchase, training, the banning of high-powered weapons, an ability to disarm citizens, bans of immigrants and criminals owning guns, and other general restrictions and regulations.

The Swiss respect the right to bear and keep arms, but it is the gun culture surrounding this right and not the right itself which is the key to their comparative success.

CHANGING LAWS: With the above in mind, the Swiss have voted against conscription recently and are currently debating more strict gun laws after a recent mass shooting. Further, the “EU Gun Ban” could affect Swiss gun laws moving forward.

Why Does Switzerland’s Gun Culture Work? – the Bottomline: Although there is no one metric to point to that proves without a doubt that Swiss gun culture works or why this is the case, one could argue that the key to what one might perceive as Switzerland’s successful gun culture (that is high ownership, low gun-related crime) is arguably found in their [what we can very loosely call] well-regulated militia, willingness to enact gun control laws, and the general sense of nationalism and pride instilled in them from their mandatory military service (where the concept of firearm ownership is focused on the collective defense of the state more than the defense of one’s estate from one’s neighbor; that is, a culture focused on the collective defense rather than individual defense). For more, see the Swiss Constitution’s section on the Armed Forces and Civil Defense.

Does every Swiss have a gun? We could ask the NRA about Swiss gun laws, but instead, let’s just ask a person from Switzerland.

FACT: Only Yemen, America, and Serbia have more guns per-capita than the Swiss.

Quick Facts About Switzerland and Guns

  • Switzerland has the second largest armed force per capita after the Israeli Defence Forces.[13]
  • Switzerland has long held a posture of neutrality regarding war and conflict. To maintain a strong defense, the Swiss instead focus on maintaining a strong well-regulated militia / military.
  • Gun ownership is high in Switzerland, at approximately .5 guns per person. About 30% of Swiss citizens own guns. Military issued firearms may be purchased from the government after service, and then the gun is converted to a non-assault weapon. Restrictions can be placed on both the firearm and its ammunition.
  • In Switzerland, you don’t need a permit for hunting weapons, but you do for other firearms and ammunition.
  • Every time you buy a non-hunting weapon you need to get a background check (you can get up to 3 guns at one time).

TIP: See loc.gov’s Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Switzerland for more reading.



Conclusion

The Swiss are not required to own guns… But, they do have sometimes restrictive Regulations on guns and Mandatory Military Service for able-bodied men. The result is what one might call “a Well Regulated Militia” and “reasonable regulations on firearms.”

Swiss gun culture stands as a good example of how regulation and the right to keep and bear can be paired in a civil state.

Switzerland does not however stand as an example of a country that requires citizens to own guns or that has a gun culture that works without training, regulations, and a culture of responsible gun ownership.


Citations

  1. The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works
  2. Small Arms Survey 2007
  3. Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Switzerland
  4. Switzerland guns: Living with firearms the Swiss way
  5. Conscription in Switzerland – Wikipedia
  6. Swiss Federal Law: Ordinance on the exemption from duty
  7. Switzerland guns: Living with firearms the Swiss way – BBC – 11 February 2013
  8. What’s Worked, And What Hasn’t, In Gun-Loving Switzerland – NPR – March 19, 20134:32 PM ET
  9. article 58 of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999 
  10. Epidemiologie von Suiziden, Suizidversuchen und assistierten Suiziden in der Schweiz – April 2015
  11. List of countries by firearm-related death rate
  12. A contrast of radically different gun laws and homicide rates in Honduras and Switzerland is based on faulty information.
  13. Military of Switzerland


"Switzerland Requires Citizens to Own Guns" is tagged with: Gun Control and Gun Rights, Human Rights, United States of America


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Gary Johnston on

Swiss laws are not really that strict, they are basically like Michigan twenty years ago minus the recent registration. Semi-automatics can be freely purchases, it is automatics that can’t be. Those leaving the militia can keep their weapons but the unit armorer converts it to fire semi-automatic only. Our individualistic gun culture works as well as theirs and the Czech Republic. The difference is that we have a gang culture which they don’t have. Since they get their guns from the same black market they sell their drugs, no laws will change that. You don’t define “high powered”. a high powered rifle is a typical hunting rifle like the .30-06 or .270. The more powerful 9.3×62mm is popular in Europe, including Switzerland.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Interesting take. Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Bill on

It’s obvious an antigun liberal wrote this article…

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Well I am a liberal, but I’m a constitution (including the second Amendment) loving liberal.

That said, the goal of this website/article isn’t “promote social liberal values” or “be against guns” it is get “to the facts straight.”

People often try to use Switzerland to back up pro-gun stances of any sort, but they often obscure reality in the process.

The reality is Switzerland has rather strict rules despite their generally LIBERAL stance on guns.

The article tries to clear up the facts. The fact is training and regulations is part of what makes Swiss gun laws work (as far as I can tell from all our research, much of which can be found in the videos and citations; but otherwise on other related pages of our site).

That said, certainly there are more factors to compare if we want to equate Americans and the Swiss. Our cultures are very different outside of our firearm culture, so the full conversation is complex. How does our melting pot and spare landscape with pockets of poverty affect things? How does the NRA affect things? Many questions to ask!

But to your point, I am in no way anti-gun, I am personally for a responsible gun culture… like the Swiss gun culture, whose gun culture and gun laws I personally find admirable. Imagine, they actually embraced that militia aspect of gun rights!

All that though isn’t the point of the article, just my personal view since you asked.

Retrocon on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

But I will take exception to those who equated Swiss “well regulated militia” with US Constitution Second Amendment.

The US Second Amendment was not referring to a militia as a formal entity of “enlisted” members, with formal training and regulation. The militia was simply every able bodied man between 18 and 55 or some such ages.

“Well Regulated” had nothing to do with governmental regulations and laws. The term at the time basically meant “properly outfitted” or “provisioned.” They wanted citizens to have firearms that worked when needed, as many citizens of the time had firearms that simply didn’t work.

The proof is simple, aside from looking up the meaning for that era, which does prove my point. The other proof is that there were no federal regulations of any kind placed on firearms or the “militia.” If the framers and founders intent was to put gun regulations in place, they would have. They didn’t.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Well regulated simply meant “working,” not disagreeing with that.

However, to have a working militia requires some degree of standards. If Washington or a state needed to call on a region to put down a rebellion (which they did in the early days like with Shays rebellion), then the militia needs to fulfill a duty similar to a police force or national guard. Seems like that means they would need some basic training and structure.

The Second Doesn’t explicitly say “we should regulate firearms,” but the rules in Switzerland do. Likewise, the Second doesn’t say “the militia must be trained so it can be in working order,” but with our modern police and military that is the case and in Switzerland that is the case.

So good points, but don’t think it detracts from the general takeaway that part of what makes Swiss gun culture work is the structure.

Stephen on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

Somebody commented that the United States has the gang culture which Switzerland doesn’t have, but none of the famous mass shooters in the States has belonged to any gang.

Also, Canada has gangs too, and our firearms laws are not extremely strict, but we don’t have nearly the same amount of gun deaths (per capita.)

And El Salvador is a terrible example, just like Venezuela (where I have lived.) Laws exist, but lack of enforcement and corruption completely negates their effectiveness.

Finally, there’s no denying the positive effects that gun restrictions have had on the gun death rate in Australia and Ireland.

Rudolf on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

We do not have any militia, we do have the Swiss Army, do try not to offend us, after all Switzerland has managed to stay out of armed conflicts for + 300 years now.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Good point. Didn’t mean to imply that the Swiss Armed Forces was a “militia.”

I’ll make sure that is more clear in the article.

Hubert Hurst on

Some of the above information is correct, but most of it is the opinion of the writer and may or may not be true.
The only true fact is that Switzerland does not require citizens to own guns, the government issues guns to a large percentage of the population and when they are of age the may buy the gun and many have more than one gun,

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I agree that the opinions into why the gun culture works is opinion, while the facts about Swiss gun laws are facts.

I’ll see if I can’t make that clearer in the article.

With that said, anyone who finds interesting studies or articles pertaining to why Swiss gun laws do or don’t work, feel free to comment with them. Would be nice to have more statistics and research to cite in that respect.

Kriss Wegemer on
Supports this as a Fact.

The man in the first video is specifically and exactly talking about defending himself against the state.

When he was telling the story about the lady weeping in the Holocaust museum, he said that he promised himself that he would never allow himself to be without a way to fight forces “dragging us away to ovens or prisons”. That was an act of the state against its people, who were rather famously not able to fight back. The right to keep and bear arms had been taken from them…. by the state. Seems very clear.

High powered weapons are obviously not illegal. Every gun he pulled from the cabinet and showed to the camera was a high powered weapon.

Each was also assault an weapon. Unless you are saying that removing the full auto feature makes it no longer an assault weapon.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Right, if the government turns tyrannical, and tries to commit aggression against the citizens, then the militia defending the citizens against tyranny makes sense. That is the other side of the coin. The militia can be called on by a government to defend the state, or in such cases where the state has become tyrannical, defend against it. That is what our founders in the United States thought at least.

Now, in WW2 Germany, guns were not taken from citizens. They were taken from Jewish citizens specifically, and thus those citizens couldn’t fight back (although, I don’t think they could have stood against the NAZI militants at the time even if they had their guns… but we can only speculate there).

Further, the Swiss’s tiered system for firearms is what it is. If you classify something as high powered, but it is legal there, then it is almost semantics. There is a class of weapons and ammo that is generally prohibited in Switzerland and training is needed for higher powered weapons.

Example, Missile launches are generally prohibited, so are machine guns. Meanwhile anyone can go out and buy a hunting rifle, while weapons (and ammo) in between generally require training and have more rules applied to them.

See here: https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/20081148/index.html

The One on

Look up Warsaw ghetto to see what a few firearms in private hands can do against an organized mechanized military…

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I can just ask my family for the stories (which would be second hand at this point). That said, I don’t recall household firearms being the difference between stopping Hitler’s goons or not, in fact I recall the story being a valiant effort that ended in slaughter.

But that said, I’m all for the Second Amendment (and other such laws), specifically for the concept that citizens and standing armies can defend their country and themselves against tyranny.