Myth: Switzerland proves that high gun-ownership doesn't increase murder.

Fact: Switzerland also has strict gun control laws.


Switzerland has compulsory gun ownership for military age males, yet it has a far lower murder rate than the U.S. But Switzerland also has far stricter gun control laws. Even so, Switzerland has the second highest rate of handgun ownership and handgun murders in the industrialized world, after the U.S.


Switzerland is frequently cited as an example of a country with high gun ownership and a low murder rate. However, Switzerland also has a high degree of gun control, and actually makes a better argument for gun regulation than gun liberalization.

Switzerland keeps only a small standing army, and relies much more heavily on its militia system for national defense. This means that most able-bodied civilian men of military age keep weapons at home in case of a national emergency. These weapons are fully automatic, military assault rifles, and by law they must be kept locked up. Their issue of 72 rounds of ammunition must be sealed, and it is strictly accounted for. This complicates their use for criminal purposes, in that they are difficult to conceal, and their use will be eventually discovered by the authorities.

As for civilian weapons, the cantons (states) issue licenses for handgun purchases on a "must issue" basis. Most, but not all, cantons require handgun registration. Any ammunition bought on the private market is also registered. Ammunition can be bought unregistered at government subsidized shooting ranges, but, by law, one must use all the ammunition at the range. (Unfortunately, this law is not really enforced, and gives Swiss gun owners a way to collect unregistered ammunition.) Because so many people own rifles, there is no regulation on carrying them, but 15 of the 26 cantons have regulations on carrying handguns.

Despite these regulations, Switzerland has the second highest handgun ownership and handgun murder rate in the industrialized world. A review of the statistics:

Percent of households with a handgun, 1991 (1)

United States  29%
Switzerland    14
Finland         7
Germany         7
Belgium         6
France          6
Canada          5
Norway          4
Europe          4
Australia       2
Netherlands     2
United Kingdom  1

Handgun murders (1992) (2)

                Handgun    1992          Handgun Murder
Country         Murders    Population    Rate (per 100,000)
United States   13,429    254,521,000    5.28
Switzerland         97      6,828,023    1.42
Canada             128     27,351,509    0.47
Sweden              36      8,602,157    0.42
Australia           13     17,576,354    0.07
United Kingdom      33     57,797,514    0.06
Japan               60    124,460,481    0.05

By contrast, Germany, France, Canada, Great Britain and Japan have virtually banned handguns and assault weapons to the general public.

Return to Overview


1. Where We Stand, Michael Wolff, Peter Rutten & Albert F. Bayers III and the World Rank Research Team (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), pp. 297,289.

2. Handgun murders: Handgun Control, Inc. Population Figures: July 1992 count for each country as reported by CIA World Factbook, 1992.