When I think of Switzerland, I think of 2 things; Banks and Cocoa. I haven’t visited Switzerland yet. That’s unfortunate and odd, considering I only live a few hours drive away, as an expat American in Germany. I plan to remedy that soon, but it’s an expensive place to visit. Color me surprised, then, when I learned that Switzerland’s gun ownership and low violence rates are often cited by those opposed to gun control in the United States. It seemed odd to me,but I like to think I keep an open mind, so I looked into it. Here’s the basic argument; Every man in Switzerland has an Automatic Rifle, so crime is low and they’ve never been invaded. Amazing! That’s incredible. Could America actually be missing out on this amazing secret of success? If we issued M16s to every male, could we have the highest standard of living in the world again, and detach from all world conflicts? The short answer is no, and if you thought it was true, you’re an idiot. Not only are you an idiot, but I will NEVER convince you that you are wrong. So, the rest of this post is not directed at those people. (… and by those people, I mean idiots). This post is directed at the generally intelligent, but usually not interested in digging too deep electorate that reads a few bumper stickers, then decides to think exactly what their parents/favorite celebrity/party platform suggests. Maybe you’ve stumbled across my blog while researching bizarre licorice obsessions. While you’re here, might as well read on…
Here are the facts:
Every male in Switzerland is required to perform military service roughly comparable to US Army Reserve-level commitments, beginning at age 20. That means 4 months of basic training and yearly training until the end of compulsory service at around 30. During this training, soldiers are not only trained in safety procedures, care and maintenance of their military equipment, including an automatic weapon, but are also evaluated for medical or mental conditions that would make them unsuited to military service (or gun custodianship). Roughly 20% of young men are deemed unsuited, and pay 3% higher taxes unless related to documented disability. After this training and screening, the citizen-soldier is required to store his weapon at home. He is NOT PERMITTED to use this weapon, even in self-defense. His ammunition is stored in central repositories with a small amount of registered and sealed ammunition provided to the soldier to use for self-defense enroute to duty in times of war. This registered ammunition will be audited at regular intervals and any purchase of commercial ammunition will require verification of a non-military weapon to use it, documentation of training and lack of a criminal/psychological background issue. At the conclusion of military service, soldiers may elect to purchase their weapon, which will be converted to semi-automatic. In addition, the former soldier must license the weapon privately and document its intended use and storage. To sell the weapon, the same documentation must be verified regarding the buyer and all documentation must be maintained for 10 years by both parties.
So, if every young male in Switzerland that is not mentally incompetent or possessing a criminal record is required to own a weapon, then gun ownership must be the highest in the world, right? It’s not even close. America’s per capita gun ownership is over 60% higher. Wait, that can’t be right, can it? Yes. In America, there are over 8 guns owned for every 10 residents (8:10 ratio). In Switzerland, that ratio is 5:10. That’s not because 8 out of 10 Americans own a weapon. The gun ownership percentage comparison between Switzerland and the U.S. is roughly similar (somewhere around 30%), but Americans are much more likely to own many guns, many of these with little or no regulation or control. This is why it has become common place for the ‘arsenal photo’ to follow gun violence stories, and why it’s not even viewed as odd by U.S. gun shops for a doctoral neurology student to suddenly amass 4 weapons, none of which are suited to hunting or sport shooting, despite having no background or experience with weapons and being under the active care of a psychiatrist (not to mention being unable to maintain a coherent live conversation).
Still, it’s worth considering that Switzerland avoided invasion and occupation during WW I and II? Sure, except it had nothing to do with gun ownership. There was never a question whether Switzerland could be overrun. Napoleon did it repeatedly. Although the world powers did have respect for the professionalism and leadership of the Swiss military, the secret of their ability to remain neutral was a deeply-rooted democratic and ethnically tolerant society, lack of conflict exploitable natural resources, extremely good luck in avoiding multiple invasion plans due to outside events, and numerous (and sometimes egregious) concessions to the warring parties to avoid conflict. Oh, and of course, the Swiss decision to not pick a side in the battle. That really shouldn’t be minimized.
So, what lessons can we ACTUALLY learn from Switzerland?
1) A well-regulated militia does not mean an NRA pot-luck picnic.
2) You should really vet people thoroughly before you give them assault weapons.
3) Guns don’t kill people. People with LOTS of guns kill people.
4) Avoiding war is a really good way to keep your economy strong.
5) Mmm, Chocolate.