Swiss code of arms

April 10, 2013

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.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

“The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

Judge Alex Kozinski

Posted by swamper | Report as abusive

The man is clearly a wimp who does not understand that violence is the ‘ultimate’ authority! If we want the freedoms that flow from a peaceful society, then we must be prepared to confront and defend against those who would take them from us. Hitler, Stalin and the rest are not the aberrations many would like to pretend. They are everywhere, and they will take power again.

A man who can and will defend himself is not a bully or a terrorist. But, if ever we become so weak, and spineless the the very thought of violence results in paralysis, the bullies not miss an opportunity to strike.

When push come to shove, hippie babble does not cut it! Have another puff my friend…….. “peace brother, all you need is love.”

Posted by EJCanadian | Report as abusive

Switzerland can remain neutral because it chooses to be neutral, not because it is forced to be neutral. Without a strong self defense there can be no choices.

Posted by swamper | Report as abusive

Switzerland’s position in history as a neutral nation surrounded by belligerents is clear. Leave them out of the armed conflicts, and they will trade with all sides equally (more or less). Invade, and they will become a nation of guerillas, taking those personal weapons into the hills and making life miserable for an invading army.

They have not always lived up to that ideal, and there are many reasons to dislike some of the things that the Swiss stand for. But as an ideal for a small, landlocked country surrounded by war for centries, it is not a bad one.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

Where in the whole world could you find a place where “normal” people (citizens) hang around with firearms without everyone screaming or being afraid? It’s a land of democracy, it is not a coincidence that during elections the parties refer to the population as “the Ruler”, but which ruler as no power? Not only in written laws but also in facts? In Switzerland everyone has the power to really make the difference: during elections, voting for new laws or even in desperate cases(that the future could reserve to us)!
The Swiss army is there so that anybody who does military service could experience what it means to be responsible of something greater than its garden, and in the culture of Switzerland a great trust is put in those citizens who prove to be responsible owning a gun which could protect themselves, their family and friends or their nation.
In my opinion every nation where the authority can not trust the population is a subjugated nation.
Switzerland isn’t.

Posted by Esattum | Report as abusive

To choose to be unarmed is perfectly fine. That’s the author’s choice, I respect it as anyone should.

Who has the unusual relationship with weapons- the youth who understands his weapon and is not afraid of it, or the Australian woman who knows nothing of weapons, is irrationally afraid of an inanimate object, and projects her fears about the misuse of said weapons upon a stranger who possesses one?

Me, I’d rather be the guy drinking a beer with my rifle in the dirt and no such irrational worries. Australia overreacted to the actions of a psychopath. Switzerland doesn’t let psychopaths dictate their policy. Good for them.

Normalization (read: legalization) creates normal, rational relations with the permitted objects, or at least the possibility of them. Confiscation creates superstition, fear, and propagandizing by a media mechanism designed to make people feel good about their culture and government. Think that’s a bad argument? What if replaced the word “gun” with “pot” or better yet, “homosexuality”?

Posted by ShiroiKarasu | Report as abusive

This is a side comment: Australian men are generally very cool people. But I’ve met several Australian women in my lifetime, and they all have an irritating trait of making comments about how other countries should be like theirs- “Why don’t you stop being like you are and just be like Australia where the milk and honey flows from every rock and money grows on trees?”

Posted by ShiroiKarasu | Report as abusive

IMO the correct term for describing Mr. Denis Balibouse is ‘twitzenshiest.’

This person is undeserving of the freedom he is being afforded.

And Reuters is reprehensible for giving this person a venue to spout his twisted hoplophobia.

Posted by HenryJMiller | Report as abusive

“I have quite a simple relationship with firearms. I don’t like them: their power scares me.” You’ve defined your entire relationship with the world. Power frightens you and claiming your own power is beyond comprehension.

Posted by pacific_waters | Report as abusive

There are people who hate guns…or snakes…or other races. This gal is one of the former and will ALWAYS hate guns. Hopefully she will never have to face a mugger or rapist in her Australia because she will have no possible handgun defense. So be it.

Posted by dratbil | Report as abusive