This meme is currently doing its rounds on facebook.
If you have been following the US gun debate over the years, you’ll know that gun advocates in the US loves to point to Switzerland as an example of why guns are not a problem. Of course, as often is the case with gun advocates in the US, they leave out a lot of facts, and even outright lie.
The meme seems to be fairly new, but the actual message has been pushed for several years, and has frequently been debunked. But since it is going around again, I guess we need to do a new debunking.
Before we start with anything else, let’s start with a short introduction to Swiss gun law (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 34 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations. However, it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition, but compatible ammunition purchased for privately owned guns is permitted. At the end of military service period the previously used gun can be converted to a privately owned gun after a weapon acquisition permit has been granted (fully automatic weapons will be rebuilt into semi-automatic ones). Switzerland thus has a relatively high gun ownership rate (31%-61% in 2005, declining). Current research from 2014 estimates gun ownership rate around 25%.
As the Wikipedia article shows, there is a lot of difference between the rate of gun possession and gun ownership, with the later being as low as 25&. The distinction is important, since only gun owners are allowed to have ammunition. The rest have the gun as part of their militia duty/military training, but don’t have any ammunition.
This is obviously a major difference from the US.
Also, the people who own guns, generally only get them after they have finished their militia duty, essentially ensuring that only people who has trained with the weapon can get it. Again a major difference from the US.
Of course, it is possible to get a permit to buying a gun even before finishing the militia duty, as long as you are over the age of 18, and are not psychiatrically disqualified nor identified as posing security problems, and have a clean criminal record. This is, unless of course, you have one of the following citizenships: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania. If you hold any of those citizenships, you are out of luck, as you are barred from getting a permit to buy a gun, even if you live in Switzerland.
When buying guns or ammunition, information about the seller, the buyer and the actual purchase is registered at the cantonal weapon registration bureau, which keeps registration details about weapon owners. Again, this is nothing like the US.
There are strict rules about transporting guns and concealed carry permits, about storage of guns etc.
All these facts are left out by the NRA and other gun advocates in the US, who only mentions the prevalence of guns, but not the restrictions and registrations. Many of these restrictions and registrations are quite similar to measures that gun control advocates have tried to introduce in the US, but which the NRA and other gun advocates have fought against tooth-and-nails.
Now let us look at the idea of Switzerland having the lowest crime rate in the world.
Saying “the lowest crime rate in the world” isn’t a very precise statement, and it is hard to be sure what is included in that, so let us try to look at some relevant crime numbers in Switzerland.
When we look at firearms-related deaths, Switzerland is certainly not the one with the lowest rate. Switzerland had 0.23 firearms-related homicides per 100,000 people in 2013, which was more than at least 25 other countries. Switzerland’s number for unintentional killings are also higher than a number of other countries (as is the number for firearm-related deaths whose category is undetermined).
If we look at intentional homicides in general, Switzerland is doing better than when we only looked at firearms-related homicides. Switzerland had 0.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, which put it fairly low on the list, but still with at least 7 countries below it, including Japan.
When looking at incarceration rate, there is also a indication that Switzerland is not the crime-free gun paradise as some people want to make it into. While incarceration rate doesn’t really tell anything about the level of crime, it still seems reasonable to expect that a country with nearly no crime would have a very low incarceration rate. Switzerland has one 0f 84 people per 100,000. This is pretty low, placing Switzerland solidly in the lower half, but there are quite a few countries lower on the list.
No matter at what numbers we look at, does Switzerland come out as the one with the lowest crime rate.
But it is worth noticing that Switzerland certainly comes out ahead of the US on those lists. The numbers in the US are consistently among the worst in the Western World (and frequently the worst).
So given that, I think the meme might actually be on to something. Maybe the US should try to introduce gun laws and militia training similar to Switzerland. This might reduce the firearms-related killings from their current horrifying levels.
For more on Swiss gun laws, see the legal report at the Library of Congress.