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Swiss stick to their guns over liberal firearm laws

Julia Lyubova in Lucerne


Switzerland is known around the world as a country of watches, chocolate and mountains. But one lesser known fact about this small Alpine country is that it is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. 

The exact number of weapons in private households is not known as there is no national register, but it's estimated to be at least 2.3 million. The population of Switzerland is a little over 8.7 million, meaning that more than one in four Swiss have a firearm. 

Most of the weapons held in private households are for sport shooting, hunting, compulsory military service or by collectors. According to some experts, weapons in Switzerland are rarely purchased for self-defense. 

Sport shooting is very popular here. Every year there is a country-wide 'Feldschiessen,' the largest shooting festival in the world that takes place at the end of May. Anyone from the age of 10 is eligible to participate.

Swiss stick to their guns over liberal firearm laws

In addition, every spring Switzerland's largest gun fair is held in Lucerne. It's been taking place for nearly 50 years. Some 10,000 visitors, mostly men but families as well, stroll through stands where they can find pistols, rifles and accessories. 

Anybody can try the weapons on display and those with a license can purchase arms. The police are there to check those who wish to apply for a license for firearms at the fair.

Manuela Frey, chief of Lucerne police office of firearms, says that there is a strict vetting procedure. This includes checking those applying for licenses for psychological problems and a history of alcohol or drug abuse and violent crime. If the results are satisfactory, the police issue a permit to own firearms. 


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Despite having one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, Switzerland ranks as one of the safest countries in the world. This is arguably due to the strict checks and because the firearms are used mainly for hobbies such as firing at a shooting range. 

It is prohibited in Switzerland to carry a weapon on the streets, except for hunting. Mass shootings in Switzerland do happen but they are rare. Last December the fatal shooting of two people in the city of Sion was international news. 

However, according to some experts, the availability of weapons in private homes also increases the risk of suicide. In 2022, 220 deaths were caused by firearms, of which 200 were suicides.

Swiss stick to their guns over liberal firearm laws

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