Ban on army firearms at home wins support

A long-standing gun tradition is coming under pressure Keystone

A survey shows a majority of the Swiss want to ban army weapons from homes – scrapping a long-standing tradition of the country's militia army.

This content was published on April 22, 2007 - 14:10

Centre-left political parties and pacifist groups are preparing a plan to force a nationwide vote on the issue as parliament considers alternative options.

Nearly two thirds of the people interviewed came out against storing personal assault rifles and guns in private households.

Under Swiss law all able-bodied men are issued with a rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition which they can keep after completing their compulsory military service.

An estimated 1.6 million firearms are in circulation in Switzerland and about 300 people are killed every year by standard issue weapons.

The latest survey, carried out by the Isopublic research institute last week, found that 65.6 per cent of citizens would vote for a ban. Among women it was 75 per cent.

A proposal to limit the ban to ammunition did not appeal to the majority, according to the survey among more than 1,200 citizens.

But more than two out of three are in favour of setting up a national gun register.

Most respondents said they were sceptical whether a ban on storing army firearms at home would prevent murders - such as the shooting earlier this month in a hotel in northern Switzerland and family tragedies.

The survey also showed that a majority of those interviewed did not think the Swiss army would lose its ability to defend the country if the gun tradition came to an end.

Political moves

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Green Party as well as pacifists groups said they will decide in May whether to launch a people's initiative in a bid to keep army firearms out of the home.

Parliament is examining a less far-reaching proposal. A Senate committee recently recommended a ban on storing ammunition for personal firearms at home. The decision came after the House of Representative threw out a plan to tighten the gun law.

The debate is set to continue during parliament's summer session in June.

The Swiss president and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party, is opposed to storing army firearms at home.

"What used to be part of our defence strategy has become a security risk," she was quoted as saying in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

She said a ban on storing ammunition at home would be a first step in the right direction.

But the head of Switzerland's armed forces, Christophe Keckeis, told the SonntagsBlick newspaper: "A soldier without his weapon is not a soldier."

Defence Minister Samuel Schmid argues that Switzerland's militia army needs to be able to mobilise rapidly.

The country's gun lobby Pro Tell says society rather than the practice of keeping army weapons at home is to blame for gun violence.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There are an estimated 1.6 to 2 million firearms in circulation in Switzerland.
About a third of all murder cases involve private guns and army weapons.
Army weapons are used in 68% of suicides, according to a recent study.

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Survey results

Storing firearms and ammunition at arsenals: 66% yes, 31% no, 3% undecided.

Storing only ammunition at arsenals: 42% yes, 55% yes, 3% undecided.

National gun register: 69% yes, 25% no, 6% undecided.

Can a ban on storing army weapons prevent family tragedies: 37% yes, 60% no, 3% undecided.

Would a gun ban weaken the army's defence capability: 17% yes, 77% no, 6% undecided.

1,203 people across Switzerland were interviewed for the survey which was carried out from April 19-21.

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