Switzerland: We’re keeping our guns

The Swiss rejected a new gun-control law that would have forced them to turn in their army-issue guns for storage in public arsenals.

The spirit of William Tell has prevailed in Switzerland, said Lino Terlizzi in Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore. Last weekend, the Swiss “upheld their tradition of the citizen-soldier” by decisively rejecting stricter gun-control laws. Under current laws, Swiss citizens keep their army-issue guns at home even after leaving mandatory military service. The proposed new law would have obliged gun owners in the country to store their weapons in public arsenals rather than at home. Proponents said removing guns from the home would cut down on domestic violence as well as curb Switzerland’s gun-suicide rate, the highest in Europe. But the conservative, nationalist Swiss People’s Party—the same party that organized 2009’s successful referendum banning minarets on mosques—led a high-profile campaign against the proposal, and 56 percent of the voters opted for keeping their guns.

The vote highlights the large cultural divide between German- and French-speaking Swiss, said René Zeller in the Zurich Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The Röstigraben, or “potato-pancake ditch,” is the well-known metaphor for the differences separating the Germans, who prefer their potatoes grated and fried, from the French, who take them boiled and garnished with cheese. Only six of 26 cantons voted for stricter gun control, and four of those six were French-speaking. By contrast, rural, German-speaking voters, among whom the idea of the citizen-soldier is deeply entrenched, voted overwhelmingly to keep their weapons. Other recent “attempts to challenge military values at the ballot box” have also failed, largely thanks to German-speaking voters. A 2008 initiative to curb military-jet noise in tourist areas failed resoundingly, and so did a 2009 effort to ban weapons exports to developing nations.

The Left allowed the populists to “completely distort” the issue, said Serge Michel in Geneva’s Le Temps. Where to store army weapons should have been a technical question “settled by the army itself.” Instead, thanks to hysterical rhetoric from the Right, it turned into “a national debate on tradition, foreign criminals, sport shooting, hunting—even the very existence of the army.” In such a climate, it’s no surprise that most Swiss clung to their guns. But when the dust clears and we all have time to draw breath, surely most of us will see that “it is absurd to believe that keeping assault rifles in the broom closet is essential for our national defense.”

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Opponents used the slippery-slope argument, said Richard Gafner in Delémont’s Le Quotidien Jurassien. They convinced marksmen and hunters that the regulation of military rifles was but a first step toward “an outright ban on all guns.” Such an idea horrified many Swiss gun owners, even the many who own a gun merely “as a legacy from a grandfather,” to which they have a sentimental attachment “without really knowing why.” It’s terribly shortsighted of us. “The Swiss have missed the opportunity to purge society of useless and potentially harmful weapons.” The next suicide or murder by an army-issue rifle will be “the sad result” of our failure.

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