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Swiss Model of Gun Control and Military Service

By Mike Bauman

Switzerland has long been viewed by many in America as being “soft” or “weak” for its stance of neutrality during the past two world wars.  However, this belief could be misguided.  A review of the Swiss military model and its related stance and culture on firearms provides the following insights:

The Swiss Army is a militia based model.  Boys grow up expecting to join the military.  They enter basic training around the age of 20 and continue to serve in the reserves until the age of around 30 (34 for officers).

Swiss reservists keep their fully automatic military weapons in their homes along with a small quantity of ammunition.  In addition, they are required to practice regularly and the government encourages citizens to engage in recreational shooting.  The government also subsidizes the sale of ammunition for military caliber firearms.

When a Swiss reservist is discharged from the military, they have the option of keeping their issued weapons.  If they choose to do so, the weapon is modified to not fire full automatic.

It is estimated there are 1.2 to 3 million firearms in private homes in Switzerland.  Despite this, Switzerland has a remarkably low number of firearms related crimes.  In 2006, there were 34 murders or attempted murders with firearms compared to 69 involving bladed weapons.  This represents one firearms related assault for every 250,000 residents.  The number in the United States is almost 7 times higher, by comparison.

Switzerland has not been invaded since the late 1700’s.  A famous story shows the pride and citizenship that makes the militia such a powerful part of Swiss life. It is said that when Kaiser Wilhelm was touring a Swiss training depot. He stopped, and asked a Swiss recruit, "The Empire can field 500,000 men, the Swiss only 250,000. Does that worry you?"

The recruit said, "No sir. We'll just shoot twice."