Bloodbath forces Switzerland to question its Wild West gun culture

Switzerland prides itself on its eccentric ways, especially the unique combination of immediacy in politics, a low crime rate and a gun culture straight out of the Wild West.

Switzerland prides itself on its eccentric ways, especially the unique combination of immediacy in politics, a low crime rate and a gun culture straight out of the Wild West. In the wake of Thursday's massacre at the cantonal assembly in Zug, all these essential ingredients of the "Swiss way of life" are now being called into question.

The bare facts of the bloodbath in the centre of Switzerland's richest town suggest that something must give. Friedrich Leibacher, the weedy 57-year-old salesman who had a grudge against his local authority, struck at the heart of the system. The Swiss President, Moritz Leuenberger, described the events as "an attack on our democratic institution".

Politicians have warned against panic measures but airport-style security is going up at the federal parliament in Berne and elected representatives are getting bodyguards. The public's path into the debating chamber, one newspaper reported, "will be flanked by policemen". But at least one member of the federal government has already pledged to defy the new climate of fear: Ruth Dreifuss, the Interior Minister, will continue to travel to work by bus.

But Switzerland must certainly change its gun laws. There are an estimated half a million semi-automatic weapons stashed in Swiss homes, most of them placed there by the government in case of a foreign invasion. A quick glance at the map shows Switzerland borders peaceful democracies, all members of the EU. The one exception is Liechtenstein – an absolutist monarchy with no army.

Yet the Swiss unquestionably put up with the inconveniences of belonging to a "civic army" because of their history. The mountains are perforated by bunkers built at huge cost and maintained at great effort. Those who have been conscripted in the army will remain on duty until their old age, obliged once a year to dust off their weapons and take them for target practice.

With so many official fire-arms freely in circulation, it is not surprising the gun laws are extremely liberal. This has always been the problem at the heart of any effort by anti-gun groups to tighten the rules. Whether public perception has changed will be seen in December, when an anti-gun organisation's initiative is put to a national referendum.

Leibacher was an unusual gun fan. Unlike the majority of gun-loving Swiss men, he did not belong to a shooting club. He used the gun for the first time to settle an argument in 1998. He waved his revolver during a bar-room row with the bus driver in Zug who, it now turns out, unwittingly triggered Thursday's tragedy. Leibacher did not fire his weapon and there was nothing more physical to this encounter than his snapping off the bus driver's car antenna. But the incident, reported in the minutest details to the authorities as the two men fought their war through the courts, should have set off alerts.

"We did not have enough grounds for confiscating the weapon," said Ronald Schwyter, the judge investigating the massacre. "We did not know whether it was loaded or not." The negligence of the authorities brought tragedy upon themselves. It is a lesson from which all of Switzerland is now trying to learn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot