Guns are deeply rooted within Swiss culture – but the gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept.
Even as the gun-control debate rises again in the U.S, the gun-loving Swiss are not about to lay down their arms. Guns are ubiquitous in this neutral nation, with sharpshooting considered a fun and wholesome recreational activity for people of all ages.
Switzerland trails behind only the U.S, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita; between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in a country of only 8 million people. Yet, despite the prevalence of guns, the violent-crime rate is low: government figures show about 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. By comparison, the U.S rate in the same year was about 5 firearm killings per 100,000 people, according to a 2011 U.N. report.
Even though Switzerland has not been involved in an armed conflict since a standoff between Catholics and Protestants in 1847, the Swiss are very serious not only about their right to own weapons but also to carry them around in public. Because of this general acceptance and even pride in gun ownership, nobody bats an eye at the sight of a civilian riding a bus, bike or motorcycle to the shooting range, with a rifle slung across the shoulder.
Unlike some other heavily armed nations, Switzerland’s gun ownership is deeply rooted in a sense of patriotic duty and national identity. Weapons are kept at home because of the long-held belief that enemies could invade tiny Switzerland quickly, so every soldier had to be able to fight his way to his regiment’s assembly point. (Switzerland was at risk of being invaded by Germany during World War II but was spared, historians say, because every Swiss man was armed and trained to shoot.)
One of the reasons the crime rate in Switzerland is low despite the prevalence of weapons — and also why the Swiss mentality can’t be transposed to the current American reality — is the culture of responsibility and safety that is anchored in society and passed from generation to generation. Kids as young as 12 belong to gun groups in their local communities, where they learn sharpshooting. The Swiss Shooting Sports Association runs about 3,000 clubs and has 150,000 members, including a youth section. Many members keep their guns and ammunition at home, while others choose to leave them at the club. And yet, despite such easy access to pistols and rifles, “no members have ever used their guns for criminal purposes,” says Max Flueckiger, the association’s spokesperson.