Does Switzerland Require Everyone to Own a Gun? – Mandatory Military Service and Gun Rights in Switzerland
- 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).
- 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 (meaning, a fully automatic converted into a semiautomatic 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), 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).
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?”
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.
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.
- 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.