Swiss code of arms
Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland
By Denis Balibouse
I have quite a simple relationship with firearms. I don’t like them: their power scares me.
Unlike most Swiss men of my age I did not take part in compulsory military service in the Swiss Army (thanks to a torn knee ligament that saved me from a possibly awkward session with the Army psychologist during the recruitment process).
When I was starting out as a photographer in my late teens I did some work for the French-language section of the Swiss Shooters newspaper. I had never felt so out of place in my life, what with everyone from teenagers to grandfathers wearing special outfits resembling some kind of Robocop get-up and armed to the teeth. Even with the hearing protection I would flinch with every one of their shots. It wasn’t the best environment in which to concentrate on getting my shot (pun intended), with hundreds taking part in the competition.
Firearms are everywhere in Switzerland, but go largely un-noticed by the general population.
A few years ago my wife-to-be was visiting Switzerland for the summer from Australia. We were having a BBQ by the lake with a couple of friends when I saw her expression change as she glanced over my shoulder. She was looking at two young men, one wearing casual clothes, the other in his army fatigues and carrying his SIG-550 assault rifle in one hand, an open can of beer in the other. As they went to sit down on the grass he casually tossed his weapon to the ground.
“Does anyone else have a problem with this?” she asked as we went about getting the sausages on the grill. Being Australian, where assault weapons were banned in 1996 after a mass shooting that killed 35 and wounded 23 in Port Arthur, Tasmania, she was shocked to see a young man carrying a rifle in public, especially while drinking alcohol. This sort of thing would attract the attention of the police pretty quickly in Australia. We explained to her that it was unlikely that the young man’s rifle was loaded, but it didn’t stop her from looking over at him throughout the BBQ. She has always found it odd that a country that proclaims its neutrality at every opportunity has such a big army and such a high rate of gun ownership.
By Ruben Sprich
The gun culture in Switzerland is unwavering. Nobody knows exactly how many guns, rifles, pistols and revolvers are in homes all over the country.
Like myself, Swiss citizens get a rifle or a gun during their time in the army. In 1987 I enlisted in the 17-week-long ‘Rekrutenschule’ in the Swiss army. On the second day I got ‘my rifle’ that I carried around with me all the time. Even when I went home for days off I carried my backpack and the rifle with me on the train and on other public transport. After 17 weeks I started working in the army’s kitchen and received a pistol (it was not practical to defend myself and colleagues with a rifle in the kitchen). Several years later in 1993 I finished my military service and I went to the arsenal to return all my army material. I remember it like it was yesterday, how the staff at the main arsenal in Bern looked at me and said “the rifle and the pistol are your personal weapons and you can keep them”. I said “No way. What should I do with the rifle and the pistol?” For me it was an experience that many people in Switzerland may not understand. It also showed the political divide in a country which ranks in the world’s top ten weapon holders per capita.
For the past several years citizens can return, by choice, their weapons, munitions and explosives to a police station, an army arsenal or when some cantons organize official return days.