Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

Swiss voters approve tightening of EU arms regulation

There are an estimated 2.3 million civilian-owned weapons in Switzerland – just over one gun for every four residents

Handguns are displayed during the 45th edition of the Arms Trade Fair in Lucerne on March 29, 2019. AFP 
Handguns are displayed during the 45th edition of the Arms Trade Fair in Lucerne on March 29, 2019. AFP 

Swiss voters agreed on Sunday to adopt tighter gun controls in line with changes to European Union rules, heading off a clash with Brussels that could have resulted in the country’s exit from the Schengen area.

The measure passed by a 64-36 per cent margin in the binding referendum, provisional final results showed.

Voter approval means Switzerland will comply with EU regulations rolled out in the aftermath of gun attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016, despite a deeply-rooted gun culture.

While there is no national registry, there are an estimated 2.3 million weapons in civilian possession in Switzerland – just over one gun for every four residents. The estimates do not include the many unregistered weapons.

The country has the world’s 16th highest rate of gun ownership as many Swiss get comfortable around firearms during compulsory military service.

In this context, the pro-arms lobby collected signatures for the May 19 referendum, campaigning against the EUs' "disarmament diktat”.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union but its failure to comply with EU regulations could have had dire consequences for both Switzerland and Brussels, one week from the European parliamentary elections.

As a member of the passport-free Schengen area, Switzerland is legally obliged to adopt the new EU rules on gun ownership. In fact, the Swiss government and the Swiss parliament had already given their backing to the revised EU Firearms Directive.

Failure to implement the regulations could have resulted in its exit from the Schengen family. The government said this could have cost the Swiss economy billions of francs a year.

Losing Schengen status would also have had a knock-on effect on immigration. As a non-Schengen country, Switzerland would have ceased to be covered by the so-called Dublin Regulation, which states that asylum seekers can only apply to one EU member state for protection.

In absence of these rules, asylum seekers from other EU countries could have been able to apply to Switzerland as a next port of call.

The Swiss Shooting Interest Group, supported by the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP), launched a popular initiative calling for voters to reject the EU Firearms Directive, arguing it was an attack on gun owners’ rights.

Opponents of the revised EU rules said they would do nothing to combat terrorism or criminality, but bring to an end of the country’s strong tradition of target shooting.

The revised regulations also institutes a mechanism for a reassessment of European gun laws every five years – which sparked fears among gun enthusiasts that they could see their rights eroded further.

The government said Switzerland’s shooting culture would not be threatened by adoption of the EU directive and noted that the county has already been granted a number of key concessions by the EU.

Swiss soldiers, for instance, can continue to take home their service high-magazine-capacity weapons at the end of military service.

Updated: May 19, 2019 06:19 PM

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