A pro-gun campaign poster reads 'Weapons Monopoly for Criminals?'
Swiss stick to their guns in weapons vote.
Switzerland upheld its reputation for having one of the most liberal yet lethal firearms laws in Europe yesterday after voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals that would have obliged some two million gun owners in the country to keep their weapons in public arsenals rather than at home.
Official results from a national referendum on gun control showed that more than half of Switzerland's 26 cantons voted against an initiative which aimed to ban army rifles from households in an attempt to reduce domestic shootings and a record number of suicides involving firearms.
Swiss soldiers have been encouraged to keep their rifles at home after leaving the forces under a national defence policy introduced during the Second World War. The practice is seen as a symbol of the trust the state invests in the Alpine country's largely conscript army.
Yesterday Switzerland's conservative politicians welcomed the outcome, saying it demonstrated the nation's reluctance to end a practice that upheld the traditions of its folk hero, William Tell. "This is an important sign of confidence in our soldiers," said Pius Segmüller, a Christian Democrat MP and a former member of the Swiss Vatican Guard.
A gun ban was strongly opposed by the populist, right-wing Swiss People's Party, which organised a referendum last year banning minaret building at mosques. Shooting club owners had complained that the law would have effectively destroyed many of the country's 3,000 gun clubs, which function as key social centres in hundreds of villages.
The result amounted to a serious blow to Switzerland's nascent gun control lobby. It had banked on a high turnout by women voters to get its initiative approved. But results showed that only the cities of Basel and Geneva and a few French-speaking cantons bucked a national trend in favour of keeping guns at home.
Social Democrat and Green women MPs said that they were disappointed by the low turnout among women. "Women in Switzerland have only had the vote for the past 40 years, but they aren't getting involved in politics even when it concerns them," complained Martine Brunschwig-Graf, a Social Democrat politician.
The gun control lobby, which includes doctors, churches and suicide prevention groups, launched their "weapons initiative" campaign four years ago in an attempt to make it illegal for ex-soldiers and reservists to keep guns at home. Their aim was to ensure that all military weapons were kept in public arsenals and retrievable only for training or in case of war.