When my NRA friends hear that I was born in Switzerland, they consider me to be the luckiest person in the world. Lucky because it is the country with the third highest per capita gun ownership in the world.
NRA members will point out to me, that every household has a gun, given to them by the government, which also provides free training to use a gun. The argument goes that because of the high numbers of guns, Switzerland has also one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
There are a few facts that my friends ignore or don't know anything about. Military service in Switzerland is mandatory for all men, voluntary for women. There are 154,376 active members, about 1,000 women and 31,767 reservists in the Swiss military, according to the record of 2012. By law, Swiss men reaching the age of 18 have to enlist, do military service, or civil service or make financial contributions if found unable to serve. It is also mandatory to report for any related duty that involves the military.
When a young man enlists he has to pass a physical exam, a fitness exam (coordination, strength and endurance). There are intelligence tests, and ones that determine how one can deal with stress and fear. There are strict background checks on criminal records, then there are lengthy interviews to establish if one has any tendencies for violence. If one passes all these security measures, one is declared fit for military service and one is handed a weapon during one's basic training that lasts 18, 21 or 25 weeks depending on the type of assignment. If someone is a conscientious objector, or if there are any other reasons for not taking part in the conventional service, one will fulfill one's duty in civil service, which lasts one and a half times longer than the conventional military service. If one is found to be a risk to society, showing inclination to violence, or if one has had any run-ins with the law or if one's intelligence level is insufficient, that person is considered unstable, or unable to be handed a gun. The person will then have to pay monetary compensation for his shortcomings.
The active military members have to report for at least six additional training courses between the basic training camp and the age of 40. Specific requirements vary by unit. When not engaged in training courses, people take part in mandatory shooting training during the summer. Almost any town features a shooting range. They have been reduced in recent years, due to noise restrictions, but since the law demands that one complies with all dictates of the military, one has to make sure to partake in these practice shootings. There are strict demands on the shooter, such as so many shots per second, different speeds and expected results. If the expectations are not met, one needs to give up more free time to practice. All the results are kept in a military record book.
One is required to take care of one's weapon, clean it regularly and to keep it away from people who should not have access to it. Some soldiers don't want to keep their high-powered weapon at home. They can deposit it in a military depot. At the end of one's military service one can keep the weapon, but they take out the mechanism that makes the weapon automatic. The individual is required to pay for the alteration.
In Switzerland, it is not the gun that enjoys the greatest attention, it is the marksmanship that counts.
There are no weapons in Switzerland without registration! I have never heard any of my Swiss friends mention that they feel threatened by their government. If I tell them about the fear of my fellow Americans, who think they need a whole arsenal to defend themselves against our president, who seems to be the greatest threat since Hannibal, my friends shake their heads in disbelief.
After explaining the gun situation in Switzerland, I wonder how many dedicated gun owners would like to live by the rules of Swiss gun ownership. I also wonder how many would be able to pass the required tests to be found fit to even own a gun. This might be the reason why the NRA fights any background checks and registration records. Who knows what would happen if we have to pass an intelligence test?
Sava lives in Birch River.