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Swiss politicians call for relaxation of gun laws after Austrian terrorist attack

Right-wing Swiss politicians have called for Switzerland’s gun laws to be relaxed in the wake of the Vienna terrorist attack.

Swiss politicians call for relaxation of gun laws after Austrian terrorist attack
Switzerland have a gun obsession which is unmatched in Europe. Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP

With the second-highest gun ownership rate after the United States, Switzerland’s gun culture is both strong and unusual. 

But while Europe’s ‘gun capital’ has an almost American-style love of weapons, they do also have a relatively stringent gun control regime. 

EXPLAINED: Understanding Switzerland's obsession with guns

However, in the wake of Monday evening’s Vienna terrorist attack – where four people were killed and several more seriously injured after a rampage through the city’s historic centre – several right-wing Swiss politicians have demanded reforms to Switzerland’s gun laws. 

Call for reform 

Currently, while gun ownership is relatively free in Switzerland, gun owners require a special permit to carry their weapons in public. 

Members of the right-wing SVP (Swiss People’s Party) and FDP (The Free Liberals) have called for gun owners to be allowed to carry their weapons in public. 

Nicolas Rimoldi (FDP) took to Twitter, saying “Free citizens must be able to defend themselves and their loved ones against terrorists: the right to carry arms now!”

 

 

Jean-Luc Addor, from the SVP in Valais, tabled a similar idea for a parliamentary initiative in 2017 and suggested that he would consider doing so again. 

‘I brought this demand to the Parliament in 2017 . At that time I was a lone voice. Do you think the new Parliament is ready for such an idea?’

 

 

Swiss law currently calls for people to “flee, hide and alert (authorities)” in the event of a terrorist attack. 

Swiss love their guns

The nation of 8.3 million people has approximately 2.3 million guns, giving it the third highest gun ownership rate in the world after the United States and war-torn Yemen. Approximately 48 percent of Swiss households have at least one gun

Contrast this with the US, where the number of guns overtook the number of people in the country in 2009. A study from the Swiss Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies found that there was 393 million guns in the US (2018 figures) for 326 million people. 

READ MORE: Swiss vote to tighten gun laws and safeguard EU relations

READ MORE: Campaign launched for tougher gun laws in Switzerland

Approximately 41 percent of US households have at least one gun

In Switzerland there has not been a mass shooting for almost 20 years. 

In the US, there were more mass shootings in 2019 than there were days in the year, a study found

Shoppers at a gun store in Switzerland. Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP

The US lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA), frequently credited as the main reason gun control continues to be stifled in the United States, has actually pointed to Switzerland’s widespread gun ownership and low crime rates – the country’s murder rate is almost zero – as a reason for fewer gun control restrictions. 

However, the organisation fails to mention the widespread restrictions across Switzerland when it comes to using and owning weapons. 

While Switzerland does have a higher rate of gun deaths than the European average, these are mainly due to suicide.


Swiss gun laws

Switzerland’s gun culture is mediated by a strong set of gun regulations on prospective and current gun owners.  

The goal of Swiss gun regulators is to prevent the “violent and the incompetent” from owning guns. Anyone who possesses a “violent or dangerous attitude” will be restricted from gun ownership. 

How comprehensive are Swiss gun laws? Photo by Bo Harvey on Unsplash

There are federal laws which regulate gun ownership, however a large proportion of gun regulation happens at the cantonal level. 

Swiss authorities in each canton keep a log of all gun owners in the region, while cantonal police are also given the power to talk to psychiatrists or talk to representatives from other cantons as part of the vetting process when someone applies for a gun licence. 

People who have been convicted of a crime as well as individuals with substance abuse problems will be prevented from owning a weapon. 

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TERRORISM

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

Four suspected members or sympathisers of the Islamic State group have been detained in Germany and Switzerland in a cross-border operation, prosecutors from the two countries said Tuesday.

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

In Switzerland, three people were picked up in the cantons of Zurich, Sankt Gallen and Lucerne, national authorities said, adding that seven further searches were also carried out.

The suspects, whose identities were not released, are accused of “participation in or support for the outlawed organisation Islamic State”.

In Germany, a man was detained in the western town of Roemerberg, federal prosecutors said.

Identified only as Aleem N., he is “strongly suspected of preparing a serious violent attack threatening the security of the state and of belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation”.

He is believed to have attempted to travel from Germany via Turkey to Syria in September 2020.

“In Syria, the suspect wanted to join the foreign terrorist organisation Islamic State, attain military training and then take part in combat or terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

However, Aleem N. was unable to reach Syria for reasons that were not immediately clear and returned to Germany.

“At the latest in April 2021 he joined Isis in Germany and carried out vast propaganda activities for the group,” prosecutors said.

His duties included “mainly translating official texts, videos and audio messages by Isis from Arabic into German and distributing them on various Telegram channels in German-speaking areas”.

“Isis considered such activities to be equivalent to taking part directly in violent jihad,” it added.

The suspect is also believed to have taken part in a telephone conversation with Isis leaders in late 2021 to “verify his reliability” before travelling to “IS zones of operation”.

However, “a further attempt” to reach Syria in January 2022 “failed again”.

Aleem N. was to appear on Tuesday before a federal judge who will decide whether to remand him in custody.

German intelligence services estimate that more than 1,150 people have travelled from Germany to Iraq and Syria since 2011 for Islamist reasons.

More than a third have since returned to Germany, while at least 270 have been killed in Iraq or Syria.

“A low three-digit-number” are currently detained in the two countries, according to the intelligence services’ 2021 report.

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