Looking at guns in the U.S., it is clear that things are not working out. With 61 mass shootings this year already, barely three months into 2019, firearms and the current legislation in place clearly are not keeping American citizens safe. The U.S. is the first ranked country in the world in firearms per capita. In other words, there’s a lot of guns in the Land of the Free because of the 2nd Amendment.
However, other countries around the world also have a significant gun presence in their societies, yet do not see nearly as much gun violence. The case in point is Switzerland, ranked 4th in the world in terms of private gun ownership within its population.
It may be surprising to think of Switzerland being a pro-gun country. Most European countries do not have guns available to civilians at all. Growing up in France, no one but the police, registered hunters and the military were allowed to have guns; I had never even seen a firearm in person until I immigrated to the U.S.! Compared to many of its neighbors, Switzerland is pretty lenient when it comes to guns. But, “pretty lenient” still means stricter than the U.S., and for good reasons: Switzerland has not seen a mass shooting since 2001.
So, how exactly does a country let its citizens have guns, all while ensuring that gun violence stays low?
Gun laws that work
The phrase “gun-control”, though taboo amongst the most conservative, is key to ending gun violence. Swiss gun laws are simple, yet effective. It starts with a set of basic premises, that aren’t so evident in the U.S.: to buy a gun in Switzerland, one must be 18, have no criminal record and no history of mental illness whatsoever.
The Swiss Weapons Act requires an acquisition license to buy a gun. In other words, to purchase a gun, you have to go to the local government and get a permit to buy your weapon. That permit is only valid for six months. In contrast with the U.S., where private sellers are not legally required to make their customers pass a background check, this is surely strict. Then, a Swiss buyer can only get up to three weapons. There is no way to fill your entire house with guns (legally, at least) in Switzerland, as that is tightly restricted.
Even after you, as a non-criminal, mentally-healthy and law-abiding individual, get your gun, Switzerland restricts its use. The local governments keep a log of all gun users in each canton (Switzerland’s equivalent of counties), and guns cannot be taken outside of private homes, except in the case of hunters and sport shooters needing to take their weapon to their shooting locations. Yet, even then, the firearms have to be unloaded and carried according to safety guidelines to prevent shots from being accidentally fired in public. Compared to the U.S., where we see viral pictures of people bringing rifles with them on their Walmart shopping trips, Switzerland does not seem to hold up to its gun-loving culture. Yet, the Swiss really do love their guns.
Educating the youngest users
The Swiss love their guns so much that they have found many ways to incorporate them into their everyday culture and education. Shockingly, kids as young as 12 are taught to shoot, and the whole community rallies for it.
An example of that is the Swiss festival of Knabenschiessen. This event, held in Zurich annually, is a three-day setup, with carnival-like activities. The main attraction is a shooting-range for preteens and teens, pictured above. The actual name of the event roughly means “boys shooting”, and has been traced back to the 1600s! Though the idea of a 13-year-old with a rifle in their hands sounds terrifying, it actually works to lower gun violence overall. As kids are introduced to firearms, they’re also introduced to safe gun use: they learn to hold, shoot, and upkeep their weapons properly. This gun education does not happen in the U.S.. Many parents here, with or without guns at home, do their absolute best to keep their children as far away from that cultural aspect as possible.
Education is often the best way to spread awareness; by introducing their gun culture to the younger generations at an early age, the Swiss are able to develop safer gun users in the future. Adding to the fact that those next-generation gun users will have to abide by strict laws, they will also be aware of how to safely handle a part of their culture that they have been familiar with since their childhood.
Your move, America
Switzerland should serve as an example to the U.S. Gun control really does work to ensure safe gun use, as does education. Maybe we should not immediately put rifles in the hands of our teenagers, but we should start by ensuring universal background checks, to be certain that no criminals get their hands on a weapon legally. Change won’t happen overnight, but when it does, it will be for the best; it’s time for the mass shootings we see in U.S. news daily to stop.
Photo: Stephen Halbrook