In February 2011, Swiss citizens voted in a referendum that called for a national gun registry and for firearms owned by members of the military to be stored in public arsenals.
“It is a question of trust between the state and the citizen. The citizen is not just a citizen, he is also a soldier,” Hermann Suter, who at the time was vice president of the Swiss gun-rights group Pro Tell, told the BBC then. “The gun at home is the best way to avoid dictatorships—only dictators take arms away from the citizens.”
Apparently many of his fellow Swiss agreed. The referendum was easily defeated. Gun ownership in the country has deep historic roots and it is tied to mandatory military service for Swiss men between the ages of 18 and 34. Traditionally, soldiers were allowed to keep their weapons at home in order to defend against conquering armies. These fears came close to being realized during the Franco-Prussian War on 1871; as well as World War I, when the Swiss border was threatened; and World War II, when the country feared a Nazi invasion.
But guns are popular beyond the military, as well. Children as young as 12 are taught how to shoot as well as the rules of gun safety, and are encouraged to participate in highly popular target-shooting competitions. The country’s cultural attachment to firearms resembles America’s in some ways, though it has no constitutional right to bear arms—it has the third-highest rate of private gun ownership in the world, behind the United States and Yemen. Yet Switzerland has a low rate of gun crime, and hasn’t seen a mass shooting since 2001, when a gunman opened fire in the legislative body in the Canton of Zug, killing 14 people, as well as himself.