AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane
Switzerland is one of the most gun-friendly nations in Europe. It has one of the highest rates of gun ownership per capita on the continent, and those numbers are probably skewed low because many households contain guns technically owned by the military as veterans keep their service weapons at home for rapid call-up purposes. (I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer as to whether those weapons are counted or not.)
Switzerland also isn’t part of the European Union.
However, the country does enjoy a good relationship with the EU. That relationship is threatened right now because the EU wants Switzerland to put tougher gun laws in place or else find its easy access to the rest of Europe cut off.
Now, the nation is set to vote on whether it should adopt new gun control measures, and opponents of the move are invoking a folk hero known for shooting tyrants.
In the eyes of rifle lover Andre Maury, centuries of tradition are under threat.
The 63-year-old is president of Geneva’s historic shooting club, housed in a gray stone building at the center of town. Sporting a blue sweatshirt emblazoned with the founding year — 1474 — he says shooting is a sport that requires autonomy and a willingness to stick to the rules. Those qualities are emblematic for Switzerland, whose folk hero William Tell, an expert marksman, launched a rebellion against foreign rule.
So it’s little surprise that Maury and his compatriots are up in arms about new restrictions, initiated by the European Union, on large-magazine semi-automatic guns. They’re looking to challenge them via a referendum on Sunday.
“It’s a bit like if we were to say today we’ll make it tougher to get a drivers’ license to prevent people from driving without a permit,’’ he said in an interview, before giving a tour of the club’s red damask-covered great hall.
A lot of this sounds like it could be taking place here in the United States.
A survey found that 52 percent of Swiss voters favor new restrictions, but 47 percent say they don’t, with one percent unsure. That’s well within the typical margin of error for a poll. Further, much of the support for the new gun restrictions have more to do with trade and tourism than any security concerns.
You see, Switzerland has ridiculously low crime despite its firearm ownership rate. There’s no perceived need for enacting gun control due to criminal activity because there’s not much of it.
Instead, the European Union is threatening to close the open-border policy between Switzerland and the rest of the continent. That means those who commute to and from Switzerland would have to deal with a passport check and may make the nation less attractive to European tourists. That’s likely to create some economic problems for the country.
Despite that, it seems the Swiss aren’t willing to roll over. A lot of them, at least.
Yes, the polls indicate a lot of support for the new measures, but not as much as we here in the U.S. might have thought. The legacy of William Tell–a Swiss folk hero who was known for his marksmanship–is still alive.