Swiss want more guns despite lower crime

Police say affordable guns could be one of the reasons why there's a rise in gun permits Keystone

Across Switzerland, there was a surge in people applying for gun permits in 2015. Was crime a driver?

This content was published on April 1, 2016

Switzerland is becoming safer. Police recently flagged up that crime rates fell by 7% in 2015, reaching a seven-year low. In 2014, homicide was actually at its lowest level in 30 years.

Most homicides are carried out with sharp instruments like knives. Between 2012 and 2014 homicides and homicide attempts by guns decreased from a high of 51. But in 2015, the number doubled - from 18 to 36. 

The number of serious injuries with a gun has remained the same since 2011, and after a spike in 2014 fell 64% last year. It should be noted that just 3% of serious injuries last year were a result of a gun – most involved a sharp instrument or physical violence.

When it comes to other crime, guns were used in 15% fewer robberies last year. They accounted for 12% of all robberies, with most carried out using physical violence.

So last year gun-related deaths were up but gun-related injuries were down. Is there a correlation elsewhere? 

A survey by shows gun permit applications were up almost everywhere in Switzerland in 2015. 

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But it doesn't seem that crime is a driver for people buying more guns. 

The small canton of Obwalden – a mountainous tourist area with around 36,000 residents – reported the biggest spike in gun permits granted, 149 compared with 100 in 2014. Crime figures have remained relatively steady there over the past five years, with a 9% decrease in 2015.

When it comes to numbers of gun permits, canton Aargau – one of the most densely populated regions of Switzerland – processed the most: 478 permits more than in 2014. There, crime has fallen by 23% since 2012.

Jura, a canton reliant on watchmaking and agriculture, was the only canton to issue fewer permits, going from 230 to 221. Its crime figures rose slightly in 2013 and then fell.

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Obwalden police commented that the rise in permits could largely be attributable to the trend toward using a variety of weapons at shooting ranges, which would require more permits. Other explanations might be the “traditional gun-friendly culture in rural areas of Switzerland”, with many people collecting guns, and the strong Swiss franc versus the “very moderate” price of second-hand weapons. The canton’s high number of trainee hunters could also be a factor. However, they stressed all this was only speculation.

Police in Aargau cautioned that a rise in gun permits does not automatically equal more weapons in people’s hands. Some permits are requested for guns being sold or already in circulation, for instance.

Martin Boess of the Swiss Criminal Prevention told Swiss public television, SRF, in December that problems arise when “new weapons come into circulation and people don’t know how to use them. There is great potential for danger. That is not a good situation for Switzerland”.   

Gun culture

Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world because of its militia army. The defence ministry estimates that some two million guns are in private hands in a population of 8.3 million. An estimated 750,000 of those guns have been recorded in a local register. Under the militia system soldiers keep their army-issue weapons at home.

Voters in recent years have rejected tighter gun controls. In 2011, voters rejected a proposal to restrict access to guns by banning the purchase of automatic weapons and introducing a licensing system for the use of firearms.

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Contact the author on Twitter @jessdace

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