Why are there posters with a Grand Theft Auto thug pointing a gun at me everywhere in Switzerland? Is this a new video game?
No, it is not a video game, it is a “No” poster for the Volksinitiative “Für den Schutz vor Waffengewalt” (for the protection against weapon/gun violence) which is the only national question being put to voters in Switzerland’s first referendum of 2011 on February 13. Again Switzerland’s right wing People’s Party (SVP) is arousing fear in the Swiss populace.
The initiative was proposed by doctors, social workers and others affected by gun violence. Now many may say that when they think of Switzerland they don’t think of gun violence. Well for the third most armed country in the world Switzerland is a peaceful country. For every 100 people there are 45,7 weapons. When put in terms of households though this equates to 1 in 3 households possessing firearms. Yet behind this peaceful facade lurk some troubling numbers, and this is where gun violence shines.
Looking at the World Health Organization’s statistics, Switzerland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe at approximately 35 people for every 100 000 people. According to Suicide researcher Dr. Valadeta Ajdacic from the University Clinic in Zurich, in the past ten years there have been more than 13,000 cases of suicide in Switzerland, or on average 1341 per year. A new study published in the Schweizerischen Ärtzetzeitung (Swiss Doctor’s Journal) shows that 34% of suicides are committed with a gun. Dr. Valadeta Ajdacic believes that limiting access to weapons would reduce these numbers by about 100 suicides per year. Then of fact there is the sad story that every so often someone, usually a man, kills not only himself but also his wife and children. And as highlighted in the Volksabstimmung vom 13. Februar 2011 Erläuterungen des Bundesrates (explanation and commentary to the initiative) just the threat of having a gun in the closet is a psychological torment for many and is not spoken about.\n\nWhile the cause of suicide may be hotly debated, the statics will point to the most traditional and conservative areas as being where they are the highest. When you live close to everyone and your every move in noticed and scrutinized by family, friends and neighbors the feeling of failure can come about easily. In this manner the Swiss bear a great resemblance to their number one fans the Japanese.\n\nThe “Waffen Initiative” asks that military officers leave their weapons in an armory when off duty. This seemingly simple and logical request is aimed at lowering suicide and murder rates, by making guns less accessible. It would further implement a federal gun registry replacing the cantonal registries. As Switzerland must exchange gun ownership data with the E.U. under the Schengen-Dublin agreement, this would help eliminate a level of confusion and bureaucracy as the E.U. would get information from just Switzerland and not 26 separate cantons. Furthermore, with the country being so small it makes more sense to have this done centrally.\n\nHowever, from the view of the SVP and many others it is an infringement on rights and further government intervention. Yet it begs the question that if you only need your weapon for military exercises or sport shooting, why do you need it at home? In fact you are not supposed to have ammunition for it at home anyway. The arguments against the initiative are illogical and based on fear. Oskar Freysinger, a SVP politician, openly asked what Switzerland would be like if Wilhelm Tell had not been allowed to have a crossbow at home. A wiser person might ask, what this SVP politician would have become had he paid attention in his history class. Yet this shows that like so much in Switzerland tradition and myth form strong counter arguments to progress.
As for claims that it is for personal protection, I have not found any reports of cases in which an off duty officer used a military weapon for personal defense against criminal violence or activity. Again, officers are not to have ammunition in the first place.
Arguments for the “Waffen Initiative” are logical and well intended. They will put limits on people’s rights as they have existed to present and will mean that owning a gun for hunters and sport shooters will be more difficult. However, civil society means voluntarily limiting one’s individual freedoms for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The Bundesrat and parliament in their official statement regarding the “Waffen Initiative” hold it for unnecessary and believe that the current laws are good enough, as the initiative cannot guarantee a reduction in gun violence. While this may be true, all of the studies would suggest that where there is less access to weapons there is less violence — without a gun at hand a potential suicide victim might consider his or choices again.
If you’re looking for more information on the topic, it can be found in German at: www.schutz-vor-waffengewalt.ch
Written by Christian Langenegger, co-founder of Marathon Sprachen
Tel: +41 (0)79 345 78 72