Swiss Standing Against European Union's Gun Control

Swiss Standing Against European Union's Gun Control
Europe is in the middle of a contentious firearms debate following a rise in terrorist attacks—but the well-armed Swiss citizenry is sticking to its guns.photo from businessinsider.com

The European Union has plans to tighten gun control regulations in light of the attacks, causing some serious friction between Switzerland and the bloc.

According to this story from businessinsider.com, the proposed directive, which applies to non-EU member Switzerland because it is part of Europe's Schengen open-border system, aims to curb online firearm sales and impose more restrictions on so-called "assault weapons."

The initial outcry from the Swiss came because the new regulation would mean a ban on the long-held tradition of Swiss soldiers keeping their rifles after they return home. The tradition harkens back to a long tradition of self-defense and to the Swiss policy of near-universal conscription, the story says.

The story says two months ago, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga returned from meetings in Brussels saying she had successfully negotiated against any such ban, but the EU members demanded concession including psychological testing and club membership.

Now, the story says the focus has moved from ex-soldiers to concerns voiced by Swiss gun-rights proponents saying this measure could disarm thousands of law-abiding citizens and that it would encroach on Switzerland's heritage and national identity, which includes a well-armed citizenry.

Sound familiar?

“When conflicts arise, Switzerland must put its sovereignty first,” said Christoph Blocher, a leading voice of the Swiss right who wants Switzerland to abandon the Schengen immigration system. He is the vice president of the SVP, which is the nation’s largest political party.

"In an emergency, Switzerland should be ready to exit Schengen," he said in the story.

The story says Switzerland has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in Europe, with about 48 percent of households owning a gun, while gun-related crime is low. In France, there are about 30 weapons per 100 people, while the figure in Great Britain is much lower at about 6.7 guns per 100 civilians.

Last year, about 11 percent of the 260,600 soldiers who left the Swiss Army opted to keep their rifles, which are modified to fire in semi-automatic mode only. The story says the number of soldiers keeping their guns has been declining in recent years.

The country' grassroots gun lobby, ProTELL, said in the story it will take the matter to Swiss voters if the EU restrictions result in stricter ownership standards on Swiss soil, and the story says they can do just that under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, as long as they gather enough signatures.

"With our direct democracy, Swiss people are accustomed to having the last word," said ProTell's Dominik Riner in the story. "We're opposed to any and all efforts to make current weapons laws more restrictive."

The story says the EU plans to finalize its gun directive before the end of the year.