Brussels has coaxed Switzerland into accepting a top-down scheme on carrying weapons. On May 19, 2019, Swiss voters approved a new set of gun restrictions to put Switzerland’s gun control laws in line with European Union standards.
Under this new law, military-style, semi-automatic weapons will be heavily restricted as well as gun registrations. Participants in shooting sports however, will still be able to nominally exercise their right to own arms.
The international gun community expressed concern after the Swiss vote in favor of such regulations, passed with a margin of 64-36 percent,.
Switzerland is generally viewed as a pro-gun country similar to the United States, and has often been cited as an international example for the feasibility of civilian firearms ownership. Those who argue for the right to self-defense, have criticised the new measures.
According to a Von Mises Institute contributor Claudio Grass and an officer in the Swiss militia, Dimitrios Papadopoulos, some 80 percent of gun owners in Switzerland use semi-automatic weapons, which are effectively now prohibited under the new directive.
The only way people can acquire the newly prohibited weapons is through an exemption where the prospective gun owner declares himself to be a sports marksman – someone having used the weapon at least five times within a five-year timespan.
This exception may soon disappear since the EU has announced further restrictions. The Swiss will have no option but to adopt these, too, according to the Schengen treaty.
Switzerland has a militia tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, and because Swiss cantons did not have nobility structures, defense and security were provided by ordinary citizens themselves. Swiss military service is also inextricably tied to marksmanship, with servicemen having to go to the shooting range at least once a year.
Military servicemen receive a SIG550 assault rifle or a SIG P220 pistol and are required to keep their firearms at home as long as they are enlisted. After serving, veterans can keep these weapons, although the automatic and burst-fire functions of the SIG550 must be disabled.
But under the new EU Directive, the SIG550 and SIG510 have been reclassified as “prohibited” weapons even though the Swiss government issues about 20 000 of these weapons to recruits every year.
Cantons handle all permits, as there is no centralized bureaucracy for guns in Switzerland., even though the firearms law is federal.
Authorities are obliged to grant a permit unless the person applying has a criminal record, mental health issues, or deemed to be dangerous. Once obtained, the firearm cannot be confiscated except for extreme circumstances.
Semi-automatic firearms will now fall under the same category as machine guns and fully automatic weapons which require an Ausnahmebewilligung or exception permit.
Both Grass and Papadopoulos highlight that the EU directive could lead to potential gun control by the EU.
“What is particularly scary is that the whole argument for the new law was not really about saving lives or reducing gun violence, but rather focused on Brussels ordering Switzerland to modify gun laws to comply with EU gun control standards. Failure to do so could lead to a potential expulsion from the Schengen Agreement. We did not vote on a subject but on avoiding potential punishment by Brussels,” they say.
Non-EU members such as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein have been forced to comply with certain EU Laws. In 2017, when the EU expanded firearms restrictions, this standard was extended to the non-EU members of the Schengen Area.
Switzerland was originally given an August 2018 deadline to implement these changes, which the Swiss parliament decided to implement. The decision was denounced by the Swiss People’s Party.
Party leader Christoph Blocher suggested that Switzerland leave the Schengen area if Swiss voters reject the gun control proposals at the polls.