October 27, 2007
Switzerland – Hands off my gun!
June 11, 2007 – 3:20 PM
Over 150,000 gun fans took part in the national target-shooting festival – the biggest in the world, claim the organizers… Related stories
Guns have long been a fixture of life in Switzerland, with its militia army, strong traditions and liberal laws. Up to 20 million are kept in cellars and attics.
As the national gun debate hots up, swissinfo tests the temperature of opinion among gun fans with a visit to a gun dealer and stop-off at the “world’s biggest shooting festival”.
It’s 10am and the tiny premises of Poyet gun shop in the middle of the capital Bern are a hive of activity.
A distinguished-looking man in suit and tie is checking the price of a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson pistol – SFr680 ($558) – while three young Goths are scanning the displays of pistols, mace and knives: “That’s the kind of gun rappers carry,” one whispers.
The two-floor shop sells a range of rifles and handguns with “something for everyone”, from army-issue assault rifles to engraved Austrian shotguns. Firearms are a commonly accepted part of Swiss life, but no one knows exactly how many exist in Switzerland. Estimates start at about two million – for a population of 7.5 million – but the owner Gaston Poyet thinks there are many more.
“I think 10-20 million is much more realistic. Most men who do military service have been able to keep their gun, and since 1840 onwards all the guns have been kept at home,” says Poyet, whose father opened the shop in 1952.
Good old days
Business was “very good” up to the mid-1990s before a sales slump and is only now slowly picking up, according to Poyet. “During the best times we sold about five to six guns a day – now it’s about the same per week,” he explains. “There’s a definite downward trend, but we are in the city and that’s different from the countryside; people in the cities are more mobile and are more afraid to have guns at home.”To compensate he now sells more accessories, air pistols and items for young people – “knives and pepper sprays”. As to changes to Switzerland’s gun traditions, Poyet senses attacks from various sides.
“Young Swiss people think differently and don’t want guns at home,” he explains, adding that the European Union and the United Nations are also exerting considerable pressures to enforce tougher gun laws. “Over the next 10-20 years this trend will get even stricter,” says Poyet, while adding that tighter gun laws will never stop criminal acts.