by Stefan Metzeler
Given that the debate on gun rights in the US is flaring up again, let me sum up the situation in Switzerland. I’m Swiss and I’ve been fighting for gun rights for almost 30 years now. When I say that gun control “does not work”, I mean “it does not result in the desired outcome”, which is, supposedly, less crime and less violence.
Until the end of the 1980s, I didn’t even realize how good we had it – from 1848 until 1998, gun laws were Canton laws. A Canton is like a US State. Each has its own constitution, parliament, laws and taxes. As late as 1998, most cantons (more than 60%) had Vermont-style carry laws, meaning you could carry – openly or concealed – whatever gun you wanted, handgun, assault rifle, didn’t matter. In most of the other cantons, a carry permit could be obtained quite easily.
Buying guns was and is easy: before 1999, it was legal to buy any long gun without a permit or registration. I know, I bought a various long guns as you would buy groceries, including a pump action rifle and a Steyr AUG. Handguns required a purchasing permit, which was – and is – a mere formality. It costs 50 CHF per permit and 1 permit allows the purchase of 1 to 3 guns from the same seller and you have to present a copy of your judicial record, to prove that you are not condemned for any violent crime.
Up until 2007, it was legal to buy guns privately without a permit, with a simple contract confirming that the gun had been sold. Since 2008, we have to obtain a purchasing permit even when buying a gun from another individual.
I was given my first assault rifle when I was 19, on joining the army. I kept it at home for the entire duration while I was officially a member of the militia army, although I did my service as civilian IT developer. After I left the army, it became my private property. When I returned my military equipment, they asked me if I wanted to keep my rifle and I said: “Well obviously”, so they made a slight modification to remove the full-auto mode and I could take it back home with me.
I still have it. It’s a SIG 510, far more powerful than almost anything people buy today. It has a 24 shot magazines. A bullet fired from this rifle can punch through 10 cm of concrete at a distance of 100m. Normal training distance is 300m.
I used to live in Canton Vaud (which is on lake Geneva, with capital Lausanne), one of the biggest cantons. Swiss French. It was one of the totally free carry states, so I actually carried my Beretta 92FS openly, in a holster, which generated a lot of useful dialogues, as most people were not even aware of this right or that we were going to lose it.
Our homicide rate and violent crime in general were so low that no one ever worried about it, If there ever was an armed robbery, it made the national news for weeks. In other words, no one was crazy enough to attempt an armed robbery, knowing that any bystander might carry a gun.
There were – and still are – an average of 3 guns per household. Collectors, like me, obviously drive up the average. About 50% of all households own at least one gun – military or private.
In 1997, the pro-EU crowd in our government decided that they wanted to join Schengen, so our gun rights were in the way and they created a federal gun law, which we never got to vote on – they knew that it would not pass. I tried to convince Pro Tell to run a referendum, but they were all like “Meuh, all they really prohibit is gun carry and we don’t need that, it’s sooooo safe here”.
I told them “It’s safe because we have the right to carry. If we lose that right, we’ll wish we could carry!”
Guess what? I was right!
The new law was applicable in 1999. That year, violent crime rose by 15% (the previous increase had been +1% per year since 1990, due to mass immigration from ex-Yugoslavia, close to 300’000 Albanians and 200’000 Serbs and Croatians).
By now, we have at least 600% more violent crime than we did in 1998. It’s difficult to get exact numbers, because they keep messing with the statistics. They no longer count a lot of offenses, they embellish them and rate them as a lesser offense etc. But the simple fact is that people no longer feel as safe as they used to.
Yes, our homicide rate is still very low – around 0.75 per 100,000 and despite the widely available guns, only 40% of all homicides are committed with guns, which proves that it is not “easier” to kill with a gun.
We are still allowed to use gun in self-defense and if we carry illegally, but use a gun out of necessity, it’s also considered legitimate.
The self-defense law is extremely simple and straight forward – this is the official text of the law from admin.ch:
If any person is unlawfully attacked or threatened with imminent attack, the person attacked and any other person are entitled to ward off the attack by means that are reasonable in the circumstances.
1 If a person in defending himself exceeds the limits of self-defence as defined in Article 15 and in doing so commits an offence, the court shall reduce the sentence.
2 If a person in defending himself exceeds the limits of self-defence as a result of excusable excitement or panic in reaction to the attack, he does not commit an offence.
The latest case of armed self-defense where a home owner shot and wounded an intruder was decided by a court in 2012 – the home owner acted in legitimate self-defense:
In 2010, a peasant shot and killed a thief who tried to steal some of his – legal – hemp plantation. He was condemned to a 2 year suspended sentence, i.e. he didn’t actually have to go to prison for a single day.
So from 1848 to 1998 – for 150 years – we did not have a single mass shooting.
In 2001, i.e. 2 years after the gun carry ban, we had the first ever mass shooting in the parliament of Zug:
Since then, we’ve had several other, almost all of them with illegally obtained guns.
In at least 2 instances, the police had confiscated legally owned guns.
Armed robberies are now extremely common:
Clearly, criminals do NOT respect the carry prohibition.
And why should they?
If they get caught, only the most serious crime will be considered for their sentencing. So they will never be prosecuted simply for having carried a gun.
But normal citizens who do not commit crimes would be prosecuted ONLY for carrying, if caught.
So it’s like in the US: a law that only applies to honest citizens.
In the US, criminals officially are not forced to declare any guns they own or purchase, even in states that have laws for gun registration, because that would violate their 5th amendment rights. Confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Pretty dumb, right?
Here, from November last year:
Here in Geneva, criminal gangs from France no longer hesitate and attack ATMs with explosives.
That never happened, before 1999!
They weren’t crazy enough – any citizen could have been armed. In France, they committed extremely violent crimes since the 1980s, they even attacked armored trucks with anti-tank weapons. But they never tied any such thing in Switzerland.
They do now – armed robberies of banks, post offices and jewellery shops have become very common:
So tell me again how “gun control” made us safer!
Go ahead, try!