By Urs Geiser
Voters have endorsed a controversial reform of Swiss gun law to bring it into line with European Union rules.
Final results show the reform winning 63.7% of the ballot on Sunday. The result was much closer in some rural regions, though voters in canton Ticino were the only ones to reject the legal amendment.
Ownership of semi-automatic weapons will now require regular training on the use of firearms and a serial numbering of major parts of some guns to help track them.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter welcomed the outcome, saying it made Switzerland more secure by improving the traceability of firearms and increasing the exchange of information with other European countries.
“But most importantly, gun traditions will continue and the use of standard-issue guns for former militia army members will not be affected,” Keller-Sutter told a news conference.
She said that membership of the Schengen security agreement – and its visa-free travel zone – provided more security for Switzerland.
She added that intensive public debates over the past few weeks are part of the Swiss system of direct democracy and helped to strengthen the cohesion of the country.
Opponents conceded defeat but complained about a misleading campaign by supporters. They warned the new regulations would undermine traditional values.
“By approving stricter gun control, Switzerland has given in to pressure by the EU,” People’s Party parliamentarian Lukas Reimann told public radio.
broad alliance of gun clubs, militia army officers, hunters and
collectors, supported by the political right, tried to overturn a
decision by parliament last year that limits notably the use of
The gun lobby launched its campaign early on, pushing its message aggressively.
Winning the support of gun enthusiasts, it easily collected the 50,000 necessary signatures to force the referendum. But it faced an uphill battle in the past few weeks.
Opponents cautioned the parliamentary decision was “dictated by the EU” and would lead to “disarming” Switzerland through “useless, dangerous, un-Swiss” measures.
They said that tougher controls on semi-automatic guns and improved traceability of firearms go too far in a country with near-universal conscription, a high rate of gun ownership, but a low crime rate.
Campaign and support
Political scientist Urs Bieri of the GfS Bern research institute pointed out the consistent campaign of the supporters of the stricter gun control and the limited backing by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party.
Unlike previous similar campaigns, the supporters did not focus on the emotional issue of gun-related deaths. Neither did the anti-terrorism arguments used by the EU feature prominently in the government’s strategy.
Rather, the pragmatic issue of Schengen membership and downplaying the impact of the reforms were enough to give the proponents a considerable lead heading into the vote on Sunday.
Tourism and borders
The government and most major political parties warned that a rejection of the legal amendment would deny Swiss authorities access to a Europe-wide criminal database and lead to the exclusion of the country from a joint EU security system under the single border Schengen agreement.
Supporters also argued that the government had won the necessary concessions from the EU respecting Switzerland’s tradition of self-defence and national identity that includes a well-armed citizenry.
The business community was also concerned that exclusion from Europe’s single-border area could complicate cross-border traffic and hamper tourism.
It is the fourth time since 2008 that Swiss gun laws are being updated to bring them in line with the other 25 Schengen member states.
Parliament approved all the previous reforms. However, a separate proposal to set up more comprehensive cantonal gun registers was rejected four years ago.
As part of the Swiss system of direct democracy, voters in 2011 threw out a left-wing proposal, including a central database on firearms, a strict licensing system for gun owners as well as a ban on stocking army-issue firearms in private households. Around 56% of voters rejected the initiative.