There is no exact tally of gun ownership in Switzerland, but certainly gun ownership is high and firearm related crime is low. This is mainly due to the culture and laws surrounding guns in Switzerland rather than the rates gun ownership by population.
Is Gun Ownership High in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, it is estimated that about 25-30% of citizens own a gun, and more own hunting weapons (which don’t require registration) or own unregistered old army weapons. These numbers are inexact as the Swiss system doesn’t allow for statical surveys, old army weapons weren’t registered at the time, and hunting weapons don’t require registration. Further, exact ownership statistics also depend on if military owned weapons are counted.
Some studies put Switzerland only behind U.S, Yemen, and Serbia in gun ownership. While gun ownership is relativity high in Switzerland, gun violence is relatively low (with most gun crimes being suicides). On the surface this hints that Swiss gun culture works better than, for example, U.S. gun culture. While this is true, it is more a matter of regulation and policy than gun ownership.
People often misrepresent Swiss gun culture. For instance, it is a myth that 1 in 2 Swiss own a gun or that we know that there are exactly 45.7 guns per person (it estimated anywhere between 1-in-2 to 1-in-4 guns per Swiss citizen), and it is also a myth that the Swiss are required to own a firearm. There is mandatory service for able-bodied men and voluntary service for women, all non-hunting weapons are tightly regulated and the gun culture has a primary focus on defense of the state, not self defense.
BOTTOMLINE: Getting exact numbers can be difficult. It depends on what type of weapons you count, if you county military and hunting weapons for example, and which studies you look at. Details aside, any way you look at it, ownership is relatively high compared to other European countries.
TIP: Want to learn more about how many guns there are in Switzerland? See: Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Switzerland, the Swiss Small Arms Survey (2007), and GUN LAWS IN SWITZERLAND.
“We can not say how many weapons are registered in the canton,” said the spokesman of Schwyz cantonal police, David Mynall. “The system does not allow for statistical surveys, but merely personal visits”… He goes from a total of two million firearms out in Swiss households, half of which is not registered anywhere. It would result in Switzerland around 250 weapons per 1,000 inhabitants. – How many weapons are in Swiss home (German, translated)
Summary of Gun Ownership in Switzerland
- Gun ownership is high in Switzerland, at approximately .25 – .5 guns per person. About 25-30% of Swiss citizens own non-hunting weapons (26% according to the Small Arms survey noted above). It is estimated that many more own hunting weapons or unregistered weapons. This is sometimes shortened to Switzerland’s gun ownership rate is 45.7 per 100 people or incorrectly to 1 in 2 Swiss own a gun (they don’t).
- In Switzerland, you don’t need a permit for hunting weapons, but you do for other weapons and ammo.
- 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).
- Criminals and immigrants can have their guns taken away or gun ownership denied.
- Nearly every man is conscripted into the militia in their 20’s and trained to use a militia grade weapon. When they get out they can buy their gun, but they are converted to non-assault weapons. 50% of guns are militia issued in Switzerland.
- Gun violence is relatively low compared to places like the U.S., perhaps in part due to Swiss gun culture. The Swiss view guns as a way to hunt and to defend their country from invasion rather than as a way to defend themselves from their fellow Swiss or the Swiss Government.
Gun-ownership, Versus Guns Per-Capita, Versus Gun Culture
In Switzerland gun ownership is high and regulations are relativity restrictive, a background check and permit is required for most firearms and for ammunition used for anything except hunting, and most men are conscripted and trained by the militia. Nearly 50% of firearms in Switzerland are former militia issued weapons.
While firearm homicide rates are on par with other European countries, firearm suicide rates are exceptionally high. More private weapons are used for homicides, but more Militia issued weapons are used for suicides.
Most of the facts about Switzerland and guns can be understood by looking at the gun culture of Switzerland, which focuses on training a well-armed militia and hunting, but frowns upon using a firearm as a means of self-defense.
How Many Guns Are in Switzerland Per Capita?
There is no completely reliable data to tell us exact firearm ownership rates or an exact number of firearms per capita, but we can look at studies to get reasonable ranges. A Swiss-based 2007 study on small arms ownership is probably the most cited and most reliable study on gun ownership on Switzerland. To paraphrase their findings:
About 26% of Swiss own at least one firearm and there were 30 – 60 firearms per 100 people as of 2007.
The study showed that total firearm ownership is very high at as many as 1.2 million to 5 – 12 million. The higher estimates don’t have solid data backing them up, thus the study concluded that the Swiss had 2.3–4.5 million firearms or 30 – 60 firearms per 100 people. Again though, this depends on what type of weapons we count and it is only one study.
Why Are Gun Ownership Rates High?
The vast majority of men (not all men) between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. Personal weapons (generally not ammunition) of militia are kept at home as part of military obligations.
Personal weapons can be converted to privately owned weapons by acquiring a permit and private ammunition can be purchased for privately owned guns (an option taken by somewhere between 57% – 75% of former soldiers as of 2007). In 2004 the Swiss army downsized reservists by about 300,000, potentially contributing to the declining ownership rates in the mid-2000’s.
Generally, the fact that the Swiss are trained to use a gun, given a gun, and given an opportunity to acquire the gun later are some of the primary reasons firearm ownership in Switzerland is high. Around 50% of all guns in Switzerland are former militia issued weapons.
Background Checks and Semi-Automatic Weapons
Anyone can get a weapon used for hunting, but Switzerland uses background checks and requires permits and IDs for other firearms. A background check must be paid for and requires about two weeks wait time. If a person is found to have committed a crime they may not be issued a weapon or may get it taken away. Getting a semi-automatic weapon, getting a permit to conceal carry (or open carry, guns are typically kept at home), or to get a weapon for self-defense is much more difficult than getting a hunting weapon.
Are Guns a Problem in Switzerland?
The idea that Switzerland doesn’t have issues with guns is an incorrect assumption. Switzerland has had notable shootings including the Zug massacre of 2001 and in 2006 the murder of former Swiss ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet. In all the homicide rate is about on par with other European countries, about 60% of homicides use privately issued firearms.
The Problem isn’t Murder, its Suicide
While, firearm murders are only somewhat more common in Switzerland than most other European countries, firearm suicide is significantly more prevalent.
Research concluded that the greater availability of firearms has increased suicides by roughly 25 per cent in the last 20 years (roughly 1987 – 2007). Army-issued weapons are used in many of Switzerland’s suicides. Although 60 per cent of Swiss firearm murderers use privately acquired weapons, 68 percent of successful suicides use army issued guns. As a proxy variable for firearm accessibility, Swiss suicide data supports higher estimates of civilian ownership.
So we can see that the training and gun ownership in Switzerland results in a lower murder rate than in countries that lack training, but can also see that gun problems remain (specifically in relation to suicide increase despite training).
Why Are there Such Discrepancies in the Estimates?
The discrepancy in data on firearm estimates stems from bias. Gun ownership and gun laws are a divisive issue. Despite intentions to be unbiased, many people are vulnerable to the classic problems of cognitive screening and selective attention, leading them to see what they expect to see.
Higher numbers typically—but not always— come from gun owners and police; lower numbers are usually from gun control advocates. Whether they devote more time to shooting sports or responding to gun pathologies, owners tend to see more guns than non-owners. Because of their greater proximity to firearms, the estimates of law enforcement officials and gun advocates must be taken seriously.
The Difference Between America and Switzerland
The United States owns more guns and has a higher homicide rate related to firearms than Switzerland. The difference doesn’t seem to be as much related to background checks or permit requirements, rather it seems to be a mix of the training Swiss men get and the overall way each culture views guns.
In general, the Swiss see guns as a means to hunt and protect their country from others by developing a well armed and well trained Militia. They avoid a gun culture focused on self-defense.
- “Gun politics in Switzerland“. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- 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. (see chapter 2 page 54 and Annexe 4. The largest civilian firearms arsenals for 178 countries). Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- “Militia gun ownership ≠ Civilian gun ownership“. Reddit.com. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- “Gun homicides and gun ownership by country“. Washingtonpost.com.com. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- “Are these claims about Switzerland’s Gun ownership true?“. Mythdebunk.com. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- “Gun homicides and gun ownership listed by country“. Theguardian.com. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.
- “The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works“. World.time.com. Retrieved Jan 7, 2016.