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Should we follow the Swiss or Yemeni gun policy example?

By John Tures
Political science professor at LaGrange College

After any shooting, it won’t take long for my inbox to get a chain email suggesting that we should be more like Switzerland, where “everyone owns a gun” and there’s hardly any gun violence.  Given that the United States, Switzerland and Yemen have the highest gun ownership rates in the world, it’s worth exploring “Quo Vadis?” (where are you going?) when it comes to guns.

Supporters of a Swiss-style gun policy are right that the country is well-armed. The 2007 “Small Arms Survey” finds Switzerland in third place worldwide for most civilian firearms per 100 residents, at 46. Only Yemen (55 per 100) and the United States (89 per 100) are ahead of Switzerland, though estimates have shown Swiss gun ownership has declined over the last 12 years, and even studies of American gun ownership are sometimes exaggerated.

But there’s no denying that these three countries are among the tops in the world in gun ownership, even as packing heat has lost some of its allure.

Switzerland boasts a very low crime rate, as the chain emails are quick to point out. It’s also “one of the richest, healthiest, and, by some measures, happiest countries in the world,” according to a Yahoo News article.

But Switzerland has a host of government restrictions that our National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun groups would currently never allow. As Yahoo News research has shown “People who have been convicted of a crime or have an alcohol or drug addiction aren’t allowed to buy guns in Switzerland. The law also states that anyone who ‘expresses a violent or dangerous attitude’ won’t be permitted to own a gun. Gun owners who want to carry their weapon for ‘defensive purposes’ also have to prove they can properly load, unload and shoot their weapon and must pass a test to get a license.” 

The NRA has not supported any of these measures. They cheered as President Donald Trump rescinded President Barack Obama’s executive order restricting gun purchases for the mentally ill. In blaming mental illness for the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Trump might be having some second thoughts about killing this policy, and doing so little after slaughters at Parkland HS in Florida and a Country-Western concert. Some Republicans are even supporting Democrats on background checks and red flag laws on gun purchases, something the Swiss would support, but not the NRA, which has already warned the GOP not to support such regulations.

Those who think the Swiss success is due to its “whiteness” might note that a quarter of the population is foreign-born. The country has been very accepting of refugees, even taking in Tamils from Sri Lanka and “is also the second largest European country in the number of acceptance of Iraqi refugees,” according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

Yemen, meanwhile, has been suffering from a brutal four-way civil war since 2015, making it one of the most dangerous countries to live in. At least 100,000 civilians have been killed in the violence, though experts fear the death toll is much higher. Their no-holds-barred gun ownership rules may have not caused problems when the country was unified, but now, the country’s a disaster.

Let’s agree with these conservatives who like the Swiss policy, and adopt some of that country’s common-sense reforms to gun ownership. And let’s pray that the nasty in-fighting in the NRA can be resolved with brand new leadership that avoids the disastrous mistakes of prior leaders who blocked so many reforms in our country that saved the Swiss from similar gun violence.

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