Police said it was astonishing to seize over 1,000 guns from a home in the posh Bel Air neighborhood.
USA TODAYGENEVA – As the push for gun reform continues to trigger heated debates in the United States and elsewhere, Switzerland’s popular civilian-owned weapons have also come under fire.In the world’s first referendum of its kind, citizens of this heavily-armed Alpine nation will head to the polls on May 19 to decide whether to accept stricter gun control measures mandated by the European Union.Europe has long banned automatic weapons, as well as some semi-automatic ones available in the U.S.But after the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, which claimed 130 lives, the EU has made it more difficult to legally buy certain weapons throughout its 27 member states. It also created tougher rules for licensing and registration of guns.Many in Switzerland are up in arms about these measures, arguing that stricter rules would not stop terrorism.“It’s a useless regulation because none of the terrorist attacks that the EU has used to legitimize the tightening of laws has been carried out with a legal weapon,” said Luca Filippini, president of the Swiss Shooting Sport Federation.Shooting is a popular sport in Switzerland, where families often can be seen heading for the range, carrying their rifles. The Swiss will vote on May 19, 2019 to decide if it should adopt the EU’s stricter gun control rules. (Photo: Swiss Shooting Sport Federation)Restrictions were also adopted in New Zealand after the Christchurch terrorist attack in March, where 51 people died. The country banned semiautomatic assault rifles and military-style weapons.And in Australia, a 1997 law banned certain semi-automatic and pump-action weapons, forcing owners to sell them back to the government. That measure was passed after a killer opened fire with a semi-automatic firearm, shooting dead 35 people.But Switzerland has not had a mass shooting since 2001, although weapons are as ubiquitous here as cheese and chocolate.According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, there are nearly 28 guns per 100 residents. But other official sources indicate the number is much higher, as firearms purchased before 2008 need not be registered and don’t show up in statistics.By comparison, the US has the world’s highest number of weapons, with more than 120 firearms for each 100 residents.While recent attacks on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a slew of school shootings across the nation drive much of the gun-control debate in the United States, in Switzerland gun ownership has not been a contentious issue.That’s because mass murders are rare and school shootings non-existent in this peaceful nation of 8.5 million people, where weapons are deeply rooted in a sense of patriotic duty and national identity.Every male is required to serve in the military, and their weapons, but not ammunition, are kept at home. People who own private guns can purchase ammunition freely, provided their weapon is registered.“Responsible gun culture” – as the Swiss commonly refer to their sensible attitude toward weapons – also means learning to shoot and handle firearms safely from an early age. Many youngsters belong to gun groups in their local communities, where they learn sharpshooting. They can test their skills at an annual shooting contest organized for kids aged 13 to 17 who compete using army service rifles. And it’s not unusual to see entire families heading for the shooting range, with rifles slung across their shoulders or carried in backpacks.Shooting is a popular sport in Switzerland, where families often can be seen heading for the range, carrying their rifles. The Swiss will vote on May 19, 2019 to decide if it should adopt the EU’s stricter gun control rules. (Photo: Swiss Shooting Sport Federation)Yet despite the prevalence of firearms, gun homicide rate here is very low — 0.5 per 100,000 people, as compared to about 5 in the U.S., according to United Nations data.But with the upcoming referendum, Swiss guns may be facing an uphill battle. Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is part of the bloc’s Schengen agreement, which allows people from 26 European nations to enter any of the countries without passport control. This means the Swiss must comply with EU’s new firearm restrictions if they want to remain in the borderless zone. “Switzerland has committed itself to these guidelines and is obliged to adopt the regulations into national law,” said Nicolas Haesler, spokesperson for the Social Democratic Party which, along with most of the country’s political groups supports the move.He added that “a ‘no’ vote would lead to the automatic exclusion of Switzerland from the Schengen area, with all the negative consequences for our security, economy and travel.”But Filippini said that if the EU has its way, certain rifles used by most of the Shooting Federation’s 130,000 members would be forbidden, making it more difficult to practice target shooting, one of the favorite sports here. “We don’t have a problem with weapons in Switzerland, so we don’t need a new law,” he said.Opponents also argue that the country’s existing legislation regulating the sale, ownership and licensing of private guns, which includes a ban on carrying concealed weapons, is strict enough. It allows citizens or legal residents over the age of 18, who have obtained a permit from the government and who have no criminal record or history of mental illness, to buy weapons from an authorized dealer, except automatic firearms, which are banned. And people who want to purchase a gun must first prove they know how to use it safely before being issued a license.Similar licensing procedures also exist in other parts of Europe, but Switzerland is the first to let the people, rather than politicians, decide the future of its guns.Read more: Download the USA TODAY appRead or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/05/17/gun-control-vote-switzerland-may-19-could-take-away-swiss-weapons/1186889001/