[su_heading size=”30″]International Guns And Gun Laws[/su_heading]
Story by Alexandria Kincaid
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]P[/su_dropcap]icture a tiny, Christmas town filled with classic Alpine chalets and surrounded by mountains, with the citizens working dutifully to contribute to the common good, and you will envision Zermatt, Switzerland. Zermatt is a picturesque tourist town that would fit the typical political progressive’s idea of utopia on earth: modern, clean and government-controlled. Environmental preservation is key. Residents pride themselves on the pure, glacial water flowing through the town. Cars are banned, except for the few licensees who are permitted to drive electric vehicles. I spoke with a shopkeeper who explained the government’s protection of the Swiss deer. If you hit a deer on the road, you had better report it and pay your fine. Unlicensed deer murderers are not tolerated. Switzerland’s per-capita income is extremely high, but according to this shopkeeper, much of her taxes fund government programs.
Gun laws around the world vary greatly. Many countries have very lenient gun-ownership laws, and statistics show that they benefit from very low crime rates.
On our first morning in Zermatt, my husband and I, like most tourists, gazed at the Matterhorn through our hotel room window and eagerly stepped out for a walk. This walk is where the progressives’ utopia would end: Within five minutes of leaving our hotel, a young man with a rifle slung over his shoulder passed us heading in the opposite direction. No one was staring. No one was concerned. No one got hurt. The man, in fact, was the epitome of normal. He looked ruddy and healthy, and was clean-shaven and well-dressed.
FIREARMS IN SWITZERLAND are no cause for concern. Until recently, the Swiss could own almost any kind of firearm, including anti-aircraft guns and howitzers. Since 1291, it has been said that Switzerland does not have an army – it is an army. With a “rifle behind every blade of grass,” the same was thought about the United States years ago. Swiss men undergo mandatory military training, which is voluntary for women, and until 2011, these militia men and women ranging in age from 20 to 42 were even required to keep their military rifles at home. In 2011, the laws were changed and now allows the militia an option to keep their rifles in a local armory.
Like the US, Switzerland’s leniency towards firearms has taken a bashing from gun prohibitionists in recent years. The Swiss also receive pressure from the UN and the European Union, to which Switzerland does not subscribe, but from which the country will apparently be influenced. In 2013, anti-gun organizations attempted to ban army rifles from homes altogether. To the relief of Swiss gun owners, the change was rejected by 56 percent of voters. However, some changes to the laws were implemented, such as a list of now-forbidden firearms.
Despite the recent changes, Switzerland still has a relatively lenient gun-ownership system. Approximately 2.3 to 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in Switzerland – a lot of firearms for a country with a population of only eight million people. While citizens wishing to purchase a firearm from a dealer must obtain a government-issued permit, the government routinely and without hassle provides these permits to applicants who do not have a criminal background and are not mentally ill.
Transfers between private individuals do not need a government permit, but the buyer and seller must create a written record of the transaction, keep the record for 10 years and provide a copy to the government. No government background checks are required on these private-party transfers.
WHILE THE EXACT NUMBERS differ depending on who is counting, the conclusions about Switzerland’s gun ownership and crime rates are the same: gun control laws are relaxed (virtually any citizen can own a firearm), gun ownership is high and crime rates are low.
In 2011, the Swiss Federal Police compiled statistics on gun-related crimes which showed that during 2009, the police investigated 236 homicides, of which 55 were allegedly committed with a gun. During the same year 524 aggravated batteries were reported, 11 of which involved gun use and 3,530 robberies were reported, of which 416 were committed with a gun. Switzerland has a population of 7.9 million. Switzerland also has the third-lowest homicide rate of the top nine major European countries. To date, Switzerland has not hosted a school massacre. This is true, despite kids and guns mixing freely in the Swiss culture. The traditional Swiss Knabenschiessen is an event for boys and girls age 13 to 17 years old in Zurich where they enjoy the pleasure of competing with Sig SG 550s. The event has taken place since 1657. The Swiss support this mix of kids, Sturmgewehr (the “SG” in Sig SG), Alps, cowbells, music and rifle fire as an event the whole family can enjoy.
Contrary to popular belief, Switzerland is not alone among European countries in its relaxed gun laws and low crime rates. Numerous Europeans own guns. Luxembourg, Finland, Lichtenstein and Belgium are a few other countries that allow citizens to obtain firearms after getting a permit; however, the applicant must generally provide a reason such as hunting, sport shooting or collecting. Self-defense licenses allowing a person to carry outside their home are generally more difficult to obtain but are available. Austrians also own quite a few guns. Austria maintains an expensive training, testing and permitting process. However, Austrians enjoy the ability to freely purchase some firearms, including certain bolt-action firearms and shotguns, provided they are registered within six weeks after purchase.
IN OUR QUEST for more information on both history and firearms, my husband and I traveled to Poland to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. How could the Poles not own guns? After all, it was the few Poles with firearms – just 10 handguns – in the Warsaw ghetto who were able to resist and begin the uprising against the Nazis. If the Polish people, comprising a population of about 45 million, each had owned even a single firearm, they could prevent an atrocity like the Holocaust from ever happening again. These prison camps have enshrined several tons of human hair, the prisoners’ eyeglasses, luggage and other belongings behind glass. We stood in the same spot as did the helpless, disarmed victims who were taken off the trains like cattle and sorted to live or die. I grew up listening to stories from my German grandparents of the horrors of World War II in Europe. The Poles, I thought, must own firearms. Not so.
Polish gun ownership is the lowest in the European Union. Yet, while recent changes to their gun laws would allow virtually any Pole to acquire a firearm, not many of them choose to take advantage of this newfound ability. Perhaps this will change in the future.
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES with stricter gun-control laws include Germany and France. Despite this, Germany still has a high rate of firearm ownership – millions of firearms are legally possessed with a Waffenbesitzkarte (firearms ownership license). Hunting and sport shooting are held in high regard, although self-defense is not deemed an appropriate reason to receive an ownership permit. Better than the Oktoberfest, the German’s annual Schützenfest in Hannover attracts over 5,000 marksmen every year. The highest scoring sharpshooter is crowned the Schützenkönig amidst the parade (the longest in the world), bands, rides and beer tents.
France restricts the types of weapons and magazine capacities for firearms and requires a government-issued permit to own a firearm. The French do not have the gun culture found in other countries like Germany or Switzerland. After the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, Americans were quick to point out that if anyone had been armed, the death rate could have been much lower. Americans also pointed out that the gun-control laws banning certain firearms, limiting magazine size and emphasizing hunting and sport rather than self-defense did not prevent the terrorists from bringing guns into the country and slaughtering over a hundred people. Despite France’s gun-control system for citizens who obey the laws, the terrorists in Paris used AK-47s that were illegally possessed and illegally transported into the country. It appears that Europeans are reassessing their situation. While the Knabenschiessen and Schutzenfest attest to the fact that many Europeans view firearms and shooting as a wholesome community activity, the increase in defensive weapons sales also attest to the desire of Europeans to use firearms in self-defense.
In fact, after the influx of Islamic refugees to Germany in 2015, guns began “flying off the shelves,” according to a Czech TV report, in the countries where citizens could purchase them, particularly in Austria. The increase in crimes, including rapes and assaults, in countries where these immigrants are welcomed and where they are passing through has made citizens stop and think about their personal safety. Austrian gun stores reported being sold out.
When in fear for their safety, Europeans, like everyone else, desire the right to defend themselves, but some of these countries’ progressive laws have made their citizens vulnerable to attack from individual criminals and terrorists because some deny gun ownership to people wishing to own firearms solely for self-defense reasons. If the high rate of firearm purchasing in countries where this is possible is any indication, Europeans wish they had a Second Amendment.
COUNTRIES WITH STRONGER gun-control laws include Australia, Brazil, Great Britain and South Africa. After a mass shooting in Australia in 1996, the government instituted strict gun control through the National Firearms Agreement, which restricts possession of semiautomatic and automatic firearms, requires registration, permitting and instituted a buy-back program (which brought in over 650,000 guns from the citizenry). Previously, only handguns needed to be registered in Australia.
Similarly, after highly publicized criminal activity including a mass shooting in the late 1980s, the United Kingdom enacted new gun-control laws that included banning certain firearms such as semiautomatic rifles, creating a strict licensing and registration system and instituting a buy-back program. An outright handgun ban was passed after another mass school shooting in 1996. Despite these laws, crime rates continued to rise, and recent facts – checked by Politifact – indicate that England and Wales have more than double the violent crime rate of the United States (comparing violence with injury against a person, serious sexual crime and robbery).
All firearms in Brazil are required to be registered with the government, and self defense is not a valid reason to request a permit. All guns are registered, confiscations occur and permits to legally own guns are routinely denied. This has not stopped Brazil from being a world leader in homicide, a fact supported by the Crime Prevention Research Center.
South Africa is another country with a strict permitting system for legal gun ownership, and a professional hunter described to me how the right, let’s say, “motivation” for owning a gun, as well as certain financial incentives, is what will ultimately decide who can possess a firearm. Despite the strict permitting laws, South Africa’s gun violence stems from the illegal possession of firearms by the people who do not respect the law and disregard the permitting process.This seems to be a reoccurring theme. All of the countries with strict gun-control laws also boast higher violent-crime rates than countries with higher rates of legal gun ownership. England and Australia have virtually banned gun ownership, but have the highest rates of robbery, sexual assault and assault with force. Britain has the highest rate of violent crime in all of Europe – higher in the early 2000s than the United States or even South Africa. In addition, these countries may have low legal firearms ownership rates, but the possession of illegal firearms can be very high, particularly in Brazil and South Africa.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, guns are part of life the world over. Countries with gun cultures that respect firearms and integrate ownership and responsibility into daily life and sporting events enjoy high rates of legal gun ownership and lower rates of violent crime. In other words, there is no correlation between legal gun ownership and increased crime rates. Instead, countries with some of the strictest gun-control laws boast the highest illegal gun possession rates and correlating murder rates in the world, such as Brazil. Even with high rates of legal gun ownership, the United States and Switzerland do not lead the world in violent crimes, homicides or gun violence. Instead, it correlates to low rates of crime. These facts are laid out plainly in research that has been conducted and compiled by the Crime Prevention Research Institute and in additional fact-checking supported by Politifact. In summary, you can own firearms in many other countries, and in some a wide variety that are not readily available to US citizens. The laws often created by a country’s history and culture define the rule. ASJ