13 Feb 2011

Swiss to vote on gun control

9:29 am on 13 February 2011

Voters in Switzerland go to the polls on Sunday to decide on proposals aimed at restricting gun ownership.

If approved, the proposals would end a tradition of men keeping their army weapons at home after finishing their compulsory military service. The practice was introduced in World War II.

In addition, gun owners would have to register their weapons and prove they know how to use them.

Supporters of the proposals say more gun control would reduce suicides and gun crime.

Opponents argue that storing army weapons in arsenals rather than in the homes would show a lack of trust in the military.

There are an estimated two to three million guns circulating in Switzerland, but the BBC says no-one knows the exact number because there is no national firearms register.

In addition to the semi-automatic assault rifle that all those serving in the army store at home, there are thousands of hunting rifles and pistols.

Shooting is a very popular sport in Switzerland, with most towns and villages having a shooting club that meets for target practice at least once a week.

Suicide debate

Although Switzerland's overall crime rate is low by European standards, supporters of greater gun control point to high levels of suicide using guns.

The campaign to store army weapons in secure arsenals is backed by the Swiss Medical Association.

President Jacques de Haller believes the practice of keeping army weapons at home is, nowadays, a dangerous and outdated concept.

But the BBC reports the Swiss army is a national institution and changing anything about it is controversial.

During a televised debate, Defence Minister Ueli Maurer argued that taking the guns away would undermine the military.

And members of Switzerland's gun lobby say the proposals will achieve nothing.

Latest opinion polls show the vote is likely to be very close, with more women than men supporting greater gun control.