Gun laws in Switzerland
Rates of gun ownership are surprisingly high in Switzerland, and a lot of newcomers are often surprised to find out how many people own weapons in the country. Here's what you need to know about gun laws in Switzerland.
Swiss gun laws
Swiss gun laws require most people buying weapons to obtain a weapons acquisition permit. In order to qualify for a permit, certain conditions need to be met: the applicant must be aged over 18, they must not have a criminal record related to violence and they must not be regarded as a threat to themselves or others.
Are guns legal in Switzerland?
Generally speaking, guns are legal in Switzerland, but only with the proper licencing, permits and use restrictions. If you wish to carry your weapon in public places, you need to obtain a permit, which is only issued if you can show a proper need, for example, those working in the Swiss police, private security or defence. You also need to pass an exam to demonstrate your understanding of firearms.
Unlike in some other European countries, you do not need a permit to transport weapons within Switzerland. However, it is a requirement under Swiss law to make sure that while transporting weapons there is no ammunition inside the firearms. In order to bring firearms from another country into Switzerland, you need to obtain an import permit. It is important to note that the European Weapons Pass is not accepted as an import permit.
What kind of guns are allowed in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, a number of different objects are classed as weapons. This means that all firearms, daggers, knives, self-defence sprays, as well as CO2 guns, imitation firearms, blank cartridges and airsoft guns are classed as weapons.
Under Swiss law, weapons are categorised into three different groups: weapons that must be declared, weapons for which a permit is required, and illegal weapons.
For weapons that need to be declared, such as manual repetition rifles for hunting, airsoft guns, blank cartridge guns and paintball guns, you need to obtain a written contract explaining where you purchased the firearm. Non-Swiss nationals who do not possess a C-residence permit (Settlement) will also need to apply for a weapon acquisition permit at their local cantonal weapons office.
For weapons such as pistols, revolvers and semi-automatic rifles with a small magazine, a weapons acquisition permit is required. You can apply for a weapons acquisition permit and other firearms permits from your cantonal weapons office.
Other larger or more dangerous weapons such as semi-automatic firearms with a large magazine, machine guns, electric shock devices, daggers, automatic blades, butterfly knives and knuckledusters are illegal in Switzerland, though can be obtained in extreme circumstances by applying for an exemption at a cantonal weapons authority.
It's also important to bear in mind that non-Swiss nationals from a number of countries are not allowed to own firearms in Switzerland. For more information about registering a firearm, the restrictions that apply and the location of cantonal weapons offices, please visit the official website.
Gun ownership in Switzerland
Gun ownership in Switzerland is much more common than in neighbouring European countries, thanks in some part to the country’s long tradition of military conscription. Despite this, the country still has low levels of gun crime and lots of people enjoy shooting for sport.
Gun ownership per capita
Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership, with around 2,3 million guns registered in a country of 8,7 million. This works out to almost one in four people in the country owning a weapon, though some statistical estimates calculate even higher numbers.
This means the country has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the entire world. Some statistics name it as the country with the third-highest number of guns per 100.000 residents - behind the United States and Yemen.
Guns and the Swiss Army: Does Switzerland give its citizens guns?
The Swiss Army conscripts soldiers through national service and trains them to use weapons for military use. Unlike in other countries, Swiss law permits soldiers to take their weapons home with them and store them. However, it is not permitted for soldiers to take ammunition and store it at home alongside their service weapons.
Does Switzerland require you to own a gun?
Because of the military service undertaken by most able-bodied Swiss men between the ages of 18 and 65, many active and reserve personnel are required to keep their service weapon in good condition at home, in case they are called into active duty.
So while Switzerland does not “require” citizens to own a gun in general, it is a requirement for many men in the country under the age of 65, simply because they have been conscripted.
Gun violence in Switzerland
Despite the high gun ownership rates in Switzerland, gun crime remains rare. Switzerland’s homicide rate is around 0,55 per 100.000 inhabitants and has one of the lowest gun crime rates in the world. In 2020, only 47 homicides were committed by firearm.
Even with strict laws in place to ensure that only people with correct permits are issued weapons, there are still some rare serious gun crimes in the country, including mass shootings.
The most recent large mass shooting took place in 2001, when a man killed 14 people and injured 18 more in the cantonal parliament of Zug before turning his gun on himself. This attack led to greater security being placed in and around official buildings including the instalment of X-ray scanners in parliamentary buildings.
Gun control in Switzerland
Overall, gun control in Switzerland allows for weapons to be obtained using proper bureaucratic channels as long as strict rules are followed. In order to find the most up-to-date and detailed information, it’s a good idea to check the website of your nearest cantonal weapons office or speak to a representative of a local shooting club.