There’s one country that comes up time and time again in the gun control debate, often used as a paradox that proves American gun laws do not have to be tightened: Switzerland.The neutral country has a tradition of a gun in every closet, and ranks amongst the highest levels of gun ownership in the world — with estimate of as many as 4.5 million guns in a country of just 7.9 million people (few countries have more guns per capita — the US and Yemen are two).
However, gun related crime is remarkably low, with only 24 gun murders in 2009 — 0.3 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 2007 figures in the US of 4.2 per 100,000 people, according to Time Magazine.
However, attempts to compare the US to Switzerland gloss over the vast differences between the two countries.
For example, the nature of gun ownership in Switzerland is tied to the military. Switzerland has a very small standing army, and citizens are expected to act as militiamen should the country be invaded. Every 18-30 years old Swiss male between has to do three months’ military training, and many more regular refresher courses. The majority of guns are army-issued, though rules on private gun ownership are very lax compared to other European countries.
This is also a country with a population smaller than New York City. According to 2011 data from the IMF, Switzerland has a GDP per capita of $83,073, almost double that of the US, or other European countries like the UK or France. The CIA says 6.9 per cent of the country lives below the poverty line, compared to 15.1 in the US or 14 in the UK.
Finally, it would be wrong to ignore that gun control has become a hot topic in Switzerland in recent years. Last year a vote was held on whether the country should end the practice of keeping army-issue firearms at home and tighten over private gun ownership restrictions. While the plans were rejected by 57% of voters, the movement appears to be growing. Switzerland’s notion of direct democracy (citizens are able to call constitutional and legislative referendums, but only on laws passed by the legislature) means that more votes are likely in the future.