More Guns, Less Crime: The Switzerland Example

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In this rant last week, Alex Jones cited Switzerland as one of the last remaining redoubts of gun culture. This post by Ezra Klein, in which he talks to Janet Rosenbaum about her research, does a good job examining that claim, but the Wikipedia article is also pretty informative:


The Swiss army has long been a militia trained and structured to rapidly respond against foreign aggression. Swiss males grow up expecting to undergo basic military training, usually at age 20 in the Rekrutenschule (German for "recruit school"), the initial boot camp, after which Swiss men remain part of the "militia" in reserve capacity until age 30 (age 34 for officers). 

Each such individual is required to keep his army-issued personal weapon (the 5.56x45mm Sig 550 rifle for enlisted personnel and/or the 9mm SIG-Sauer P220 semi-automatic pistol for officers, military police, medical and postal personnel) at home. Up until October 2007, a specified personal retention quantity of government-issued personal ammunition (50 rounds 5.56 mm / 48 rounds 9mm) was issued as well, which was sealed and inspected regularly to ensure that no unauthorized use had taken place. 

The ammunition was intended for use while traveling to the army barracks in case of invasion. In October 2007, the Swiss Federal Council decided that the distribution of ammunition to soldiers shall stop and that all previously issued ammo shall be returned. By March 2011, more than 99% of the ammo has been received. Only special rapid deployment units and the military police still have ammunition stored at home today.

When their period of service has ended, militiamen have the choice of keeping their personal weapon and other selected items of their equipment.[citation needed] In this case of retention, the rifle is sent to the weapons factory where the fully automatic function is removed; the rifle is then returned to the discharged owner.[citation needed] The rifle is then a semi-automatic or self-loading rifle.

There's a lot more in the article, but what became clear to me is that Switzerland does have a gun culture -- one that is heavily regulated by the government, right down to counting your bullets. Leaving aside that Switzerland has a fraction of America's population, leaving aside that gun ownership in Switzerland is still much lower than here in America (29 percent of households to 43 percent, respectively), this Swiss model strikes me as the kind of governmental intrusion that someone like Alex Jones is in no hurry to invite.

In our gun culture, as in so much else, we are unique. There's just no comparison.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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