Geneva: Switzerland, which has the highest
rate of suicide by firearms in Europe, voted today to hold
fast to its long-standing tradition of letting citizens keep
army-issue weapons at home.
A referendum, launched by a coalition of non-governmental
groups, religious authorities and centre-left parties, sought
to get the weapons stored in armouries instead.
The initiative also wanted to abolish the practice of
allowing those on military service to keep their
government-issue assault rifles even after they leave the
Just two hours after polls closed, 22 out of 26 cantons
returned final results, with a majority of cantons -- 17 --
voting firmly against the move.
For any initiative to pass, the twin support of a
majority of citizens and of cantons is required.
The practice of keeping arms at home was once a core part
of the country`s defence strategy, which was in part aimed at
deterring invasion with the threat that its citizens are
combat-ready at any sign of trouble.
According to official data, about two million firearms
are in circulation in this Alpine country of about seven
million inhabitants. But there are an estimated 240,000 more
The Swiss ease with weapons is seen on the street and in
railway stations, as young conscripts travel to and from
military service nonchalantly carrying their semi-automatic
rifle, with barely a glance from passers-by.
Xavier Schwitzguebel, an officer in the Swiss army when
he is on compulsory military service, pointed out that gun
culture is a tradition here.