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Staring down the barrel of Swiss gun traditions
Switzerland is grappling with a question and itís a loaded one: should its citizens be allowed to keep military rifles at home?
The shooting traditions are deep-rooted in this country where basic military training is mandatory and so is storing weapons at home. Itís estimated that over 500,000 military rifles are kept in Swiss cellars and cupboards. WRS video journalist Amy Wong went to the Tiro Federale in Campagna (also called the Feldschiessen in German or Tir fťdťral en campagne in French) the largest shooting festival in the world, to witness this 83-year-old tradition.
This is a SIG 550. Itís designed to destroy anything standing within its 400 m trajectory. And there are over 500 thousand of them kept Swiss homes.
Guns and shooting are a strong Swiss tradition. Basic military training is mandatory for young men, and afterwards theyíre required to keep their weapon at home.
Marc Heim is the Ticino representative for the lobby group ProTell.
MARC HEIM: This was my fatherís military rifle and of course he got to keep it when he was finished. I have my grandfatherís military rifle hanging on the office wall. This was mine when I did service. Itís quite an old one it was introduced in 1957 and used until 1990. And this is my sonís. Itís the current model. Thatís whatís being used today. Thatís what weíll be using the shoot the Feldschiessen today.
The Feldschessen, or Tiro Federale in Campagna as itís known in these parts is an annual Swiss event and the largest shooting festival in the world. Roughly 200 thousand people come out to target practice all across the country. ammunition is provided by the government.
Heim goes regularly to this range, and itís often a family affair.
HEIM: It was organized by the government to have a very high state of readiness for the Swiss military and population. The target has always been that within 24 to 48 hours, Switzerland could mobilize a pretty large army. I mean, even by European standards.
But it wasnít the militia that sparked Heimís interest in guns as young man. It was an unassuming trip to a holocaust museum.
HEIM: I was going through all the exhibits and the soaps and the lampshades made of peopleís skin, and while I was looking, I heard a funny noise, and there was an old woman, maybe two metres from me. She was trying not to cry. She was sort of sobbing very quietly. She was sort of holding it back. If she had been a few more meters away I wouldnít have heard her. And thatís when it all hit me. I promised myself I will never be in her situation. I would want to be free and never in a situation where they could just march us off to ovens or prisons.or just take away our freedom.
HEIM: The key to freedom is the ability to be able to defend yourself, and if you donít have the tools to do that then you are at the mercy of anyone who wants to put you away. And the tools for that are guns.
However, not everyone sees guns the same way.
While gun crime is relatively low in Switzerland, more than 300 people a year are killed military rifles, the majority of them suicides. Recently efforts for more regulation have been picking up. And a certain faction of people want military rifles stored in army barracks, rather than peoples cellars.
Tobias Schnebli is an activist with the Group for Switzerland without an Army.
TOBIAS SCHNEBLI: You do have studies that show that having firearms so easily available in every home does augment cases of abuse of this. Availability of firearms and military firearms in Swiss homes is one part of the problem. Itís not the whole problem thatís for sure, but there is no military justification for this tradition to be kept when we see the keeping of this tradition does facilitate these cases of abuse. Every case of abuse is a case too much.
HEIM: In the case of a son who kills himself, I know one. I cannot imagine anything worse happening. But it has nothing to do with the guns. Itís a totally separate issue. If he had killed himself with a knife, what would you do with knives? If he jumped out a window, would you close up all the windows? It has no connection at all with guns.
The initiative to ban guns will likely go to a national vote in a couple of years.
Amy Wong, World Radio Switzerland, in Comano.
ó Amy Wong, World Radio Switzerland
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