why anyone wants an "assault rifle"
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January 23rd, 2013, 16:51
I live there, so I can tell you about my perspective and do further reserach if you are interested.
Up front, there is a discussion here as well. There have been several family shootings and a few amok runs recently that have sparke a debate.
You are right that Switzerland has one of the most liberal weapon laws, which, simply put, grew out of its history of having an organized militia rather than a regular army. Similar to the US, there is also a strong pro-gun lobby here that has so far thwarted all attempts to create stricter regulations.
However, despite that, Switzerland weapons law does have restrictions regarding ownership, import and trade. As a citizen or resident you can legaly buy weapons but you have to get a permit which is similar to your background check. However, sports and hunting weapons are exempt from this, as are historic weapons. Recently there was a shooting with historic carbiners that came into possession of a person with a known history of mental problems that would have precluded him from getting a normal gun legally.
Weapons are also registered (however this is implemented very poorly, as each Kanton (country/state/region kinda thing) has it's own database, and they are not networked among each other or with the federal database.
Citizens of several states are prohibited from owning weapons.
Weapons may however not be carried in public without a special license, which is handled relatively restritive. There are also clear rules with regards to storage.
A special factor are the "Ordonanzwaffen" - since the militrary is still organized as a militia, soldiers take their rifle home. They are also allowed to keep it (with modifications turning it from automated to semiautomatic afaik) relatively cheaply after active service. This is a big factor in the high weapons ownership statistics of switzerland, and one reason, imho, why Switzerland has such high weapon ownership inspite of having much less of a gun culture than the US. Ther have been many incidents of domestic violence turning lethal due to the availability of "Ordonanzwaffen" and some random shootings, hence regulations were made that allow (promote) storage of guns at the barracks, and stricter regulations regarding ammunition.
Regarding gun culture: What you won't see here vs. the US, is guns on sale in supermarkets and hardwarestores etc. (my experience in Georgia). You have to go to a gun dealer, and there actually aren't many of them. Overall there is a big difference in that the ownership of weapons here is not usually related to the idea of self defense. Its sport, hunting and militia weapons. That may be a factor why also crime is far less armed than in the US. Armed self defense is VERY rare here. Unfortunately some right wing lobby groups actually try to change that and promote an american gun culture (link (german):
You are right that Switzeland is, inspite of incidents as noted above, quite a safe country. In addition to differences in gun culture there are many other factors - for one, Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations and has a very low unemployment and poverty rate.
So what can you learn from the case of Switzerland? On one hand, yes, you can have high weapon ownership rates and liberal weapon laws and still enjoy relative safety - but only IF you keep a lot of other factors in the optimal range (gun culture, wealth, gun storage, carrying in public, control of perceived "risk groups", etc., etc.). And even here ease of access has made several tragedies possible.
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