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]

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 (and an exemption is easy to get).
  • 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).
  • 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 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 must 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, showing that the right to bare 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.

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.

FACT: 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, 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.[5]

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.

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.

Why Does Switzerland’s Gun Culture Work?

The key to Switzerland’s success with gun culture is arguably found in their 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.

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.

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.[6]
  • 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.
  • Gun ownership is high in Switzerland, at approximately .5 guns per person. About 30% of Swiss citizens own guns. Military issued firearms must 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).


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. It’s 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 bare can be paired in a civil state. It does not 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. A contrast of radically different gun laws and homicide rates in Honduras and Switzerland is based on faulty information.
  6. 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) 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.