Swiss vote to keep army guns at home
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Last Updated: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 20:49
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 army.

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 unregistered weapons.

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.


First Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 20:49

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