by David B. Kopel and Stephen D’Andrilli (American Rifleman, February 1990)
In the right to bear arms debate, pro-gun Americans point to Switzerland, where almost every adult male is legally required to possess a gun. One of the few nations with a higher per capita rate of gun ownership than the United States, Switzerland has virtually no gun crime. Therefore, argue the pro-gunners, America doesn’t need gun control.
Yet Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), in its brochure “Handgun Facts,” points to Switzerland as one of the advanced nations with strict handgun laws.” The brochure states that all guns are registered, and handgun purchases require a background check and a permit. Gun crime in Switzerland is virtually non-existent. Therefore, concludes Handgun Control, America needs strict gun control.
Who’s right? As usual, Handgun Control is wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily make the pro-gun side right. Gun ownership in Switzerland defies the simple categories of the American gun debate.
Like America, Switzerland won its independence in a revolutionary war fought by an armed citizenry. In 1291, several cantons (states) began a war of national liberation against Austria’s Hapsburg Empire. In legend, the revolution was precipitated by William Tell, although there is no definitive proof of his existence.
Over the next century, the Swiss militia liberated most Switzerland from the Austrians. The ordinary citizens who composed the militia used the deadliest assault weapons the time, swords and bows. Crucial to the Swiss victory was the motivation of the free Swiss troops.