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Switzerland votes to approve stricter gun laws in line with EU regulations

Reports suggest the country has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.

Image: Shutterstock/guteksk7

SWISS VOTERS HAVE approved tougher gun laws to bring the country’s firearms regulations closer to European Union legislation.

Final results in a national referendum showed that voters have overwhelmingly supported reforming Switzerland’s gun laws, with 63.7% approving the new measures.

The majority of voters in all but one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the reform, with the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland the only one to vote against the proposals.

The referendum followed a demand from the EU that the Swiss toughen their gun laws, a call which prompted a national debate over firearm ownership in a country with a deeply-rooted gun culture. 

While the government warned that the new legislation was crucial to the country maintaining ties with the bloc, the proposals sparked a pushback from the lobbyists.

The vote came after shooting enthusiasts gathered enough signatures to trigger a vote under Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.

Brussels changed its laws on weapons laws two years ago after a number of deadly terrorist attacks across Europe, banning certain types of semi-automatic firearms.

Major consequences

While not an EU member, Switzerland is bound to the bloc through an array of intricately connected bilateral agreements.

Bern had cautioned that a “No” vote would lead to Switzerland’s exclusion from the visa-free Schengen travel region and also the Dublin accords regulating Europe’s asylum-seeking process.

Failure to pass the vote would have had major consequences for security, asylum and even tourism, and would cost the country “several billion Swiss francs each year” the Swiss government said.

Under the new laws, which have already been approved by legislators, semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines will effectively be banned.

Collectors and sports shooters could still purchase such weapons, but would need to do more to obtain an “exceptional authorisation” to own them.

Liberties ‘eroded’

However, those behind today’s referendum insisted that the government’s warnings were “exaggerated”.

The campaign against the law claim it amounted to an “EU dictate” which was not in line with Swiss sovereignty and would “erase the right to own weapons” in Switzerland.

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The ProTell gun lobby voiced concern at the consequences of the referendum result, in which some 43 percent of eligible voters participated.

“Today, our liberties have been eroded,” ProTell President Jean-Luc Addor told RTS, also insisting that the reform would “obviously not avoid a single terrorist attack”.

It is difficult to know exactly how many firearms are in circulation in Switzerland, since guns are registered regionally and there is no national registry.

A 2017 report by the Small Arms Survey, the country boasts the world’s 16th-highest rate of gun ownership, with some 2.3 million firearms in civilian hands – nearly three for every ten inhabitants.

The strong gun culture in Switzerland is partially tied to its tradition of national defence service, as most Swiss men undergo military service between the ages of 18 and 30 and are allowed to keep their assigned weapon when they are done. 

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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