Ironic developments in Switzerland

Not a banned weapon. And don’t worry, it’s not ever going to be. It’s not like someone’s gonna whip this out on you in a dark alley, after all.

Gun nuts are fond of pointing out that gun ownership is a requirement in Switzerland, in the event that the famously neutral alpine country should ever find itself at war. They also like to insist that an armed society is a polite society (forgetting, of course, that the super-rude United States is the most gun-ridden land on Earth.) What’s not mentioned is that in spite of their preponderance of firearms and mandatory military service for all adult males, the Swiss have a serious violence problem, particularly in the major cities. And that their politicians are tackling that…with more laws, not more weapons:

BERN: Female politicians of the SVP and SP parties want to ban knives outside the home.

A general knife ban would be a helpful measure against violence in public, say parliamentarians Andrea Geissbühler (SVP) and Chantal Galladée (SP) in the “Sunday” newspaper.

At the moment, only flick-knives and butterfly knives are banned. Now the anti-weapon initiative is in its next phase. Army weapons are no problem for the police, unlike knives.

“Lots of young people take knives along when going out,” says SVP member of parliament and policewoman, Andrea Geissbühler, in an interview with “Sunday” about the anti-weapons initiative. The reason? “People have to defend themselves [against gangs] when going out”, arrested teenagers have told her. Geissbühler’s idea: “We have to tighten our anti-knife laws. Outside the home, no one should be carrying a knife–with the exception of Swiss Army pocketknives.”

The SVP politician found spontaneous support from a counterpart in the SP, Chantal Galladée: “If you want to sharpen the law against knives, I’m right there with you.”

Geissbühler, a policewoman, proposed the knife ban based on observations from her workaday life. “I know what it’s like in Bern. In the Neuengasse and the Aarbergergasse, every Friday and Saturday night, we had to set up all-night patrols, or we’d end up with brawls and knife fights.” Usually, the culprits are foreigners–Turks and ex-Yugoslavs. “They’re very thin-skinned. A tiny nudge is perceived as an attack,” says Geissbühler.

Criminal statistics from the federal police agency show that some 5% of physical injuries come from “bludgeonings and stabbings”. Knives are a factor in 13% of robberies and about 40% of homicides.

Translation mine.

So, this is knives, and not guns, you say? Well, there’s no indication that guns won’t be next, if they’re found to be a factor in robberies, school bullying and homicides. If Switzerland finds itself confronted with an increase in gun violence (and there’s no way of telling that it won’t), I’m sure a rethink of Swiss gun law–or lack thereof–will be in order. BTW, there IS talk of imposing gun controls in Switzerland now; it’s up for a vote in February of this year, as it happens.

In the meantime, I find it interesting to note that two women are spearheading the anti-knife initiative in the Swiss parliament. Not unlike Canada, where two women (not parliamentarians, but private citizens) started the ball rolling for the federal gun registry and tighter gun controls. Why is it, I wonder, that we women always seem to be the ones to do the necessary thing? Surely not because we’re the ones disproportionately at risk of ending up as victims of violence?

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4 Responses to Ironic developments in Switzerland

  1. SDH says:

    From your article it seems the Swiss problem is mostly with foreign nationals, not the indigenous Swiss.

    They have already taken steps to address this problem:

    http://www.canadianimmigrationinformation.com/2010/12/swiss-voters-approve-referendum-to-automatically-expel-foreign-nationals.html

  2. Sabina Becker says:

    Nobody likes to admit that they have a home-grown problem, but I’m sure the Swiss have one too. Everybody does. I can guarantee you that expelling foreigners won’t address the locals, who will show up soon enough on the radar. Xenophobia is a very superficial “solution” at best. A weapons ban works better.

    And, BTW, restricting immigration here won’t make our violence problem disappear either. There have always been domestic criminals. Some more domestic than others, since a woman is more likely to be shot dead by her husband than some random shooter on the street.

  3. Paul Levy says:

    I lived in Switzerland for more than three years, and there are a number of things to say about this piece. Firstly, Swiss newspapers are fairly unreliable as far as reporting crime goes – they almost always stress that someone involved in crime is of foreign origin (even if they are a second or third generation Swiss resident); don’t mention it if it’s a “true” Swiss. (Switzerland’s strict nationality laws also have a bearing here.) This encourages the idea, very common among the xenophobic Swiss (particularly in some of the insular, German-speaking areas) that crime is all to do with foreigners.

    However, it does seem that there’s a problem, and I would hazard a tentative guess that it’s more to do with drugs than with knives. I’m not someone given to moralising, but when I lived there I saw at first hand how: when drugs increase, crime goes up, especially violent crime. Ok, anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything but I’d wager the stats prove me right.

    The guns issue though, is a longer-running thing. It’s not actually true that every Swiss man has to own a gun – Swiss nationals (men only) have to do military service unless they can get a doctors’ note saying they can’t do it (a very common practice). The point is that anyone who is available for military service has to keep their gun (and the bullets!) at home all the time, not just for the 2 weeks a year when they are away with the army. The ideology is that Switzerland’s national army would be capable of responding within a few hours to a call to arms. (In reality they wouldn’t. Most people can’t remember where they left the bullets.) These arms have been involved in a number of high profile murders/suicides recently, most notably a famous Swiss skier who was shot dead by (if I remember correctly) her estranged husband. They aren’t exactly “social” crimes – they serve to elevate Switzerland’s murder rate above the level at which it would otherwise be. I highly doubt any of these guns could ever be used in street gang fights. There are other (non-army) guns in Switzerland but my impression was that they were extremely rare. I can’t remember hearing of too many armed robberies while I lived there, so I’m not sure how much of a factor that would be.

  4. Jim Hadstate says:

    And, just as a point of interest, the Swiss are governed by a xenophobic wingnut government who only recently passed that law that was used as an examlp above. The xenophobic coalitions seem to sprout up more often in countries that have a fairly parochial, single-race society, ie the Scandinavian countries, The Alpine countries, etc.
    However, some of the worst ethnic violence seems to happen in societies where the competing groups seem to have more in common that in difference. Perhaps that’s simply a function of food availability, ie Africa, India, SE Asia, China.
    Anyway, it all seems kind of sad and pointless. It seems to need an answer along the lines of Rodney King’s plaintive question, “Can’t we all just get along?”

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