The shooting in Daillon, on a steep slope in snow-covered Alpine foothills about 50 miles southeast of Lausanne, shocked the Swiss people because it seemed so senseless. It immediately revived their perennial debate over the danger posed by large numbers of unregistered weapons in private hands and the tradition of off-duty troops storing their guns at home in a closet.
The Swiss debate has closely resembled the arms-control controversy that has boiled up in the United States after the Newtown killings. Liberal Swiss politicians, following a script shared by American counterparts, have vowed to push for new restrictions. Their conservative opponents have maintained that more laws would do nothing to prevent such shooting attacks.
Although separated by thousands of miles and the Atlantic Ocean, the United States and Switzerland have in common long-standing traditions of unusually high levels of weapons possession among their citizens. Behind Switzerland’s image of whispering bankers and scrubbed chalets, it also has, like the United States, a strong and vocal segment of the population that considers attempts to tighten gun laws as attacks on individual liberties and the national character.
The Small Arms Survey, in a study conducted in 2007 by researchers attached to the University of Geneva, estimated that Switzerland has about 3.4 million firearms of all kinds among a population of about 8 million, or 46 for every 100 people.
This makes it exceptional in Europe. France, which lies next door, was found to have about 19 million firearms among a population of about 65 million, or 31 for every 100 people, and it surrounds ownership of all weapons with strict registration requirements.
The United States, the survey’s estimates showed, leads the world, rivaled only by Yemen. Americans were found to have about 270 million firearms in a population of about 314 million, or 89 for every 100 people.
Although Switzerland ranks third in gun possession, its history has not been stained with as many random killings as the United States. Sixteen have been recorded since 1990, most accounting for only a few deaths. The most notorious occurred in September 2001, when a man opened fire on the regional parliament in the Zug canton, killing 14 people before taking his own life.
Eric Voruz, a member of the Swiss parliament’s Security Policy Committee, said he and his Socialist Party colleagues decided after the Daillon shooting to introduce legislation for a referendum on the creation of a national gun registry. The bill, he said, will include a requirement that Switzerland’s citizen soldiers leave their army-issued weapons in a military arsenal after annual training rather than storing them at home.