Armed nation where the sound of gunfire fills the valleys at weekends

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Switzerland is "an armed nation", proclaims the country's federal constitution dating back to 1848. Almost every adult male is issued with a gun, to be kept at home oiled and ready for any possible foreign invasion.

Switzerland is "an armed nation", proclaims the country's federal constitution dating back to 1848. Almost every adult male is issued with a gun, to be kept at home oiled and ready for any possible foreign invasion.

The weapon, these days a semi-automatic, is supplied with 24 rounds. The ammunition comes in a sealed box, but it is easy to buy more on the open market.

For shooting is Switzerland's national sport. Swiss expertise with weapons dates back to the Middle Ages, when mercenaries were the biggest export item. These days there are shooting ranges in every town and village, and at weekends the sound of gunfire fills the valleys. When not in use, the family weapon is supposed to be locked up safely in a gun cabinet.

One of the biggest sporting events is a national shooting day in the summer, when tens of thousands test the skills already learnt in childhood and carefully honed by the army in adult life.

Reservists must report for target practice once every year. If they have neglected their shooting and consistently miss, they are punished by being forced to spend two days at an army barracks. Refusal to turn up for the annual shoot can result in a fine of 100 Swiss francs (about £40).

But few refuse, because most Swiss think guns are fun. "The attitude to guns in Switzerland is similar to that in America," said Johann Aeschlimann, a journalist working for the Berne newspaper Der Bund. "When we were kids, we were always playing with the rifle. This is one of my childhood memories – going to a shooting range with my dad."

The inalienable right of Swiss men to bear arms is jealously guarded by Pro-Tell, the equivalent to America's National Rifle Association.

It is named after the national hero William Tell, who may not even have existed. Yet William Tell, and his talent with the crossbow, remains the sustaining myth of Switzerland's national identity.

The alleged threat to the cherished gun culture has even been seized by nationalists opposing closer ties with Europe. Only last week, the government was forced to reassure citizens that signing the Schengen agreement with the European Union, which calls for the abolition of internal borders, would not affect Swiss gun laws.

Despite the prevalence of guns, Switzerland has a low crime rate, and incidents of the kind which brought tragedy to Zug were unheard of until yesterday.

Comments