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Swiss vote down stricter gun laws

A poster in Zurich last month suggested that criminals would benefit if gun laws were tightened. A poster in Zurich last month suggested that criminals would benefit if gun laws were tightened. (Associated Press/Keystone)
By Associated Press
February 14, 2011

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GENEVA — Neutral Switzerland is among the best-armed nations in the world, with more guns per capita than almost any other country except the United States, Finland, and Yemen.

At least 2.3 million weapons lie stashed in basements, cupboards, and lofts in this country of less than 8 million people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

Yesterday, Swiss voters made sure it stays that way, rejecting a proposal to tighten the Alpine nation’s relaxed firearms laws.

The decision was hailed as a victory by gun enthusiasts, sports shooters, and supporters of Switzerland’s citizen soldier tradition.

“This is an important sign of confidence in our soldiers,’’ said Pius Segmueller, a lawmaker with the Christian People’s Party and former commander of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.

In Switzerland, where all able-bodied men are required to perform military duty, many choose to take their army-issued rifle home after completing military service.

Gun clubs, too, remain a popular feature of village life in rural parts of the country, with children as young as 10 taking part in shooting competitions.

Doctors, churches, and women’s groups tried and failed yesterday to require military-issued firearms to be locked in secure army depots.

They also wanted the Swiss government to establish a national gun registry and ban the sale of fully automatic weapons and pump-action rifles, arguing this would help cut incidents of domestic violence and Switzerland’s high rate of firearms suicides.

The measure — which 56.3 percent of voters rejected — had little chance of winning over the independent-minded Swiss, who have resisted the lure of joining the European Union and recently shocked the world with a vote to ban the construction of minarets.

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