Switzerland is proud of being a democracy, of being internationally neutral and of not having been involved in conflict since a civil war in 1848. But is still has the second largest armed force per head of population in the world. Why?
Military service is mandatory with almost all eligible males trained as soldiers and women also serving as volunteers: “For me, joining the army was patriotic decision,” says Sergeant Laetitia Geiser. “I’m intrigued when it comes to serving my country.”
Military training camps are a common across Switzerland, as are civilians carrying shotguns over their shoulders.
Behind only the US and Yemen in the number of guns per capita; there are around 29 guns for every 100 people. And in a country of only 8 million people, that means at least one in four households has a gun.
The pro-military culture has made target shooting a popular national sport, even amongst children. “I inherited my passion for shooting from my parents,” says nine-year old Luca.
Despite the strong gun culture, there are rarely more than forty gun homicides a year, compared with the US – with its 30,000 gun murders a year and 31 every day.
Nonetheless, a fresh debate over gun control has been rekindled in Switzerland.
Sandro Cattacin from Geneva University doesn’t believe keeping arms at home creates greater security; and anti-gun lobbyist Amanda Gavilanes launched a campaign five years ago with the slogan “for a better protection from armed violence.”
But with guns so engrained in Swiss culture and the crime statistics so relatively low, is it a debate that will ever lead anywhere?
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