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Swiss politicians call for relaxation of gun laws after Austrian terrorist attack

Right-wing Swiss politicians have called for Switzerland’s gun laws to be relaxed in the wake of the Vienna terrorist attack.

Swiss politicians call for relaxation of gun laws after Austrian terrorist attack
Switzerland have a gun obsession which is unmatched in Europe. Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP

With the second-highest gun ownership rate after the United States, Switzerland’s gun culture is both strong and unusual. 

But while Europe’s ‘gun capital’ has an almost American-style love of weapons, they do also have a relatively stringent gun control regime. 

EXPLAINED: Understanding Switzerland's obsession with guns

However, in the wake of Monday evening’s Vienna terrorist attack – where four people were killed and several more seriously injured after a rampage through the city’s historic centre – several right-wing Swiss politicians have demanded reforms to Switzerland’s gun laws. 

Call for reform 

Currently, while gun ownership is relatively free in Switzerland, gun owners require a special permit to carry their weapons in public. 

Members of the right-wing SVP (Swiss People’s Party) and FDP (The Free Liberals) have called for gun owners to be allowed to carry their weapons in public. 

Nicolas Rimoldi (FDP) took to Twitter, saying “Free citizens must be able to defend themselves and their loved ones against terrorists: the right to carry arms now!”

 

 

Jean-Luc Addor, from the SVP in Valais, tabled a similar idea for a parliamentary initiative in 2017 and suggested that he would consider doing so again. 

‘I brought this demand to the Parliament in 2017 . At that time I was a lone voice. Do you think the new Parliament is ready for such an idea?’

 

 

Swiss law currently calls for people to “flee, hide and alert (authorities)” in the event of a terrorist attack. 

Swiss love their guns

The nation of 8.3 million people has approximately 2.3 million guns, giving it the third highest gun ownership rate in the world after the United States and war-torn Yemen. Approximately 48 percent of Swiss households have at least one gun

Contrast this with the US, where the number of guns overtook the number of people in the country in 2009. A study from the Swiss Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies found that there was 393 million guns in the US (2018 figures) for 326 million people. 

READ MORE: Swiss vote to tighten gun laws and safeguard EU relations

READ MORE: Campaign launched for tougher gun laws in Switzerland

Approximately 41 percent of US households have at least one gun

In Switzerland there has not been a mass shooting for almost 20 years. 

In the US, there were more mass shootings in 2019 than there were days in the year, a study found

Shoppers at a gun store in Switzerland. Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP

The US lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA), frequently credited as the main reason gun control continues to be stifled in the United States, has actually pointed to Switzerland’s widespread gun ownership and low crime rates – the country’s murder rate is almost zero – as a reason for fewer gun control restrictions. 

However, the organisation fails to mention the widespread restrictions across Switzerland when it comes to using and owning weapons. 

While Switzerland does have a higher rate of gun deaths than the European average, these are mainly due to suicide.


Swiss gun laws

Switzerland’s gun culture is mediated by a strong set of gun regulations on prospective and current gun owners.  

The goal of Swiss gun regulators is to prevent the “violent and the incompetent” from owning guns. Anyone who possesses a “violent or dangerous attitude” will be restricted from gun ownership. 

How comprehensive are Swiss gun laws? Photo by Bo Harvey on Unsplash

There are federal laws which regulate gun ownership, however a large proportion of gun regulation happens at the cantonal level. 

Swiss authorities in each canton keep a log of all gun owners in the region, while cantonal police are also given the power to talk to psychiatrists or talk to representatives from other cantons as part of the vetting process when someone applies for a gun licence. 

People who have been convicted of a crime as well as individuals with substance abuse problems will be prevented from owning a weapon. 

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TERRORISM

UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

In a rare case of alleged Islamist "terrorism" in Switzerland, a woman was jailed for nine years on Monday for the brutal knife attack on two shoppers at an upscale department store.

UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

A Swiss woman accused of slashing two people in the name of the Islamic State group in an upmarket shop
was sentenced on Monday to nine years prison coupled with psychiatric treatment.

The criminal court judges found the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, guilty of two counts of attempted murder, and of violating the Swiss laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related Islamist groups.

The woman, who has not been named, tried to slit the throats of two women shopping at the Manor store in Lugano, in Switzerland’s southern, Italian-speaking Ticino region on November 24, 2020.

The attacker, 28 at the time, was accused of committing a “jihadist knife attack” and had “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS” (the Islamic State group), the attorney general’s office said earlier this year.

Random victims

On the day of the attack, the woman had gone to Manor’s kitchen supply division on the fifth floor, picked out a large bread knife and approached a random woman standing nearby.

Grabbing her from behind, the assailant plunged the knife at least 10 centimetres into her throat, missing her main carotid artery “by a few millimetres”, the court heard. 

As she screamed “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and “I will avenge the Prophet Mohammed”, she struck the victim to the ground, and then moved on to a second woman, stabbing the knife towards her face and shouting “I am here for
Isis”.

The second woman suffered defensive wounds to her right hand, but managed with help from others to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

“The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness,” prosecutors said, maintaining that she had acted “with the aim of killing (her victims) and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’.”

Mental health problems

Police quickly discovered the alleged assailant had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

After “falling in love” over social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria, she had attempted in 2017 to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, but was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, it is alleged.

Upon her return, she was deemed to have mental health problems. She was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and fell off the security police radar until the attack three years later, police said.

The assailant had reportedly once been married to a Muslim asylum seeker and had converted to Islam.

‘Very rare’

Experts said the trial marked a rare event, pointing out that such attacks are almost unheard of in the wealthy Alpine country.

Switzerland has never experienced a large-scale terror attack, though it did suffer two other individual knife attacks in 2020 by people with suspected jihadist ties.

“In Switzerland, it’s been very random and very rare that we have people that conduct terrorist attacks,” Christina Schori Liang, a terrorism expert at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told AFP.

It is even rarer that the alleged jihadist attacker is a woman.

“Isis has never claimed an attack carried out by a woman,” Damien Ferre, founder of the Jihad Analytics group which analyses global and cyber jihad, told AFP.

While there were reports of women carrying out attacks in the battle for Mosul in Iraq in 2004, he stressed that “it was never proven and the group did not communicate about it.”

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