Switzerland’s minister of justice has called for national gun registration in a country held up by U.S. gun-rights advocates as a model for armed societies.
The call by Ruth Metler comes just a week before the second anniversary of Switzerland’s worst multiple gun homicide. Nearly two years ago, a lone gunman armed with a fully automatic military rifle stormed the parliament building in Zug and killed 14 elected officials. A similar number were wounded, said reports.
“That’s the reason why I have proposed creating a register which would have all the names of weapons in Switzerland,” Metler said.
Yet her call appears to run counter to a culture that embraces firearms and shooting sports as a matter of national tradition and pride. So embedded are firearms in the culture that Nazi Germany elected not to invade the Swiss during World War II, allowing the country to retain its armed neutrality.
Also, Switzerland’s “Militia Army” defense requires men above the age of 20 to be ready for call-up for national service and to keep a fully automatic SIG Sturmgewehr 90 military rifle in their homes. Some 500,000 men have military rifles in their residences.
The SIG Sturmgewehr 90 rifle used by the Swiss Army.
Article 13 of the Swiss Constitution forbids the confederation of cantons (autonomous regions, like states, within the country) to maintain a standing army, and the implementation of a national gun registry could interfere with that prohibition by implementing too much bureaucracy, critics say.
But, according to the SwissInfo news service, Metler believes firearms should be centrally registered as a way to improve public safety.
She told the German-language SonntagsZeitung that following the Sept. 27, 2001, shooting spree in Zug, a consultation process on tightening Swiss gun laws failed to see the adoption of serious gun reforms.
The measures under consideration thus far include tighter rules for persons wanting to buy firearms, as well as a ban on imitation and soft-air guns, said SwissInfo. Based on current statistics, studies show there are 1.2 million firearms in Switzerland, the news service reported, citing a survey by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, a figure Metler has described as “worrying.”
But critics counter such rules would give the federal government too much power in deciding who can and cannot obtain a firearm, a problem that could limit the country’s ability to defend itself, based on its current system of ensuring national security.
Switzerland’s model has been recognized by U.S. gun-rights advocates and scholars as one of the best systems in the world and the foundation for American gun rights.
“The American Founders … admired Switzerland’s decentralized system of government,” writes lawyer, author and constitutional expert Dave Kopel. “Switzerland is a confederation in which the federal government has strictly defined and limited powers, and the cantons, even more so than American states, have the main powers to legislate.
“American Founding Fathers such as John Adams and Patrick Henry greatly admired the Swiss militia, which helped inspire the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the preference for a ‘well regulated militia’ as ‘necessary for the security of a free state,’ and the guarantee of ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms,’” he wrote in a column for National Review. “Late in the 19th century, the American military sent observers to Switzerland in hopes of emulating the Swiss shooting culture.”
He said for years even the Swiss federal government sold to private civilians “all manner of military surplus, including antiaircraft guns, cannon and machine guns.”
In recent years, though, there has been an increase in gun control in Switzerland.
In 1996, Swiss citizens voted to give the federal government some control in regulating firearms. The resultant 1998 Federal Weapons Law “regulates import, export, manufacture, trade and certain types of possession of firearms,” Kopel wrote.
However, the law leaves in place the right of virtually any Swiss to own military-style weapons and to participate in shooting competitions all over the country. And while it forbids fully automatic rifles, it exempts the military rifles that are owned and carried by nearly every male in the country.
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