Guns and the people of Switzerland share a surprising connection. The small alpine nation is close behind the U.S when it comes to the number of weapons per capita, yet gun-related violence is almost non-existent. In fact, one has to go back to 2001 in search of the last mass shooting. How can two countries sharing pretty much the same Western culture end up developing such contrasting relations with guns?
World map of countries by number of guns per residents
Throughout its history, the Swiss Federation has been surrounded by powerful and ambitious neighbors, which pursued a continuous land grab for most of the time. Although sheltered by a rugged terrain that made it impossible for large armies to march and seize, the populations had to take protection into their own hands. Since the invention and spread of gunpowder in Europe, each valley carving its way through the Swiss Alps fostered its militarized community. Passed down from one generation to another, the tradition of owning and yielding guns became not much more than that, an assurance that the cantons would preserve their self-determination. The Swiss militia system that put a firearm in every home and made marksmanship training compulsory helped the country not only maintain its neutrality in the two world wars but also discouraged any attempt of invasion.
Here in America, guns served entirely different purposes – conquering and colonizing the interior of the continent, solving ideological disputes, and finally, supporting the United State as the on-duty power responsible for world peace. Using guns on offense versus in defense works to explain why the two countries developed in different directions. Government data indicates an average of 0.5 firearm homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Switzerland, while here in the United States, it averages ten times more cases per year. One can easily question the ethics of using such statistics. For example, those who advocate a relaxation of gun control legislation tend to choose the figures that suit them best. Switzerland’s small number of bullets that caused deaths becomes statistically negligible when compared to the millions of rounds fired in target practice. Nonetheless, they are the only window into a phenomenon that is increasingly worrying from a global viewpoint.
Regulating gun use is a topic that will always put people on different sides of the barricades, “shooting” at each other with facts and arguments that appear bulletproof. Even Switzerland went through a referendum intended to ban army rifles from homes completely. Rejected by 56% of voters it led to stricter regulations. For us in the United States, the topic becomes hotter especially during electoral campaigns, when candidates’ hopes of securing the decisive edge, lie in teaming up with the right crowd. The gun culture of the U.S. gave weapons also a dimension into the realms of personal pride. Hollywood made guns “cool,” and one would have a hard time finding a film that does not make at least a reference to them. Things are a bit different in Switzerland. Because military training is compulsory for all male Swiss citizens, society devised a way of extending it back to younger generations. Sharpshooting has become a staple pass time activity for Switzerland’s youth, and many view it as the ideal method of disciplining and fostering the right gun culture.
The Swiss example comes in support of the idea that its status of neutrality might have been protected by the guns. The question that arises from Switzerland’s example is obvious. Can the United States copy the model and reduce the number of victims of gun violence? Can mass shootings be avoided in the future not through bans, but by investing in creating a saner and different gun culture through education?