Swiss voters appear set to align with EU on tighter gun laws

Swiss voters appear set to align with EU on tighter gun laws
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Swiss media were reporting that early exit polls Sunday show that voters approved a measure to strengthen Switzerland’s gun laws, bringing the Alpine country in line with many of its European partners over the objections of many law-abiding gun aficionados.

Switzerland’s public broadcaster said preliminary estimates show that roughly a two-thirds majority nationwide voted to align behind a European Union directive on firearms adopted two years ago.

If approved, the Swiss proposal would, among other things, require regular training on the use of firearms, special waivers for possession of some semi-automatic weapons and serial-numbering of key parts of some guns to help track them. Gun owners would have to register any weapons not already registered within three years, and keep a registry of their gun collections.

The issue is part of Switzerland’s regular referendums that give voters a direct say in policymaking. It has stoked passions in a country with a long and proud tradition of gun ownership, and sport and target shooting, and where veterans of obligatory military service for men can take home their service weapons after their tours of duty.

Supporters, including the Swiss parliament and executive branch, say similar measures adopted by the EU after deadly extremist attacks elsewhere in Europe are needed to ensure strong police co-operation and economic ties with Switzerland’s partners in Europe’s Schengen zone of visa-free travel. They insist the move wouldn’t block any law-abiding citizens from obtaining legal guns, but would simply do more to track them.

Switzerland is not an EU member, but is in the Schengen zone. A rejection could jeopardize the country’s delicately managed relationship with the powerful economic and political bloc.

Werner Salzman, front left, Swiss parlamentarian of conservative party SVP and member of the committee against the EU gun laws and policies, speaks at the committee’s meeting in Burgdorf, Switzerland, Sunday, May 19, 2019. Peter Schneider/Keystone

Opponents insist that such changes will violate Switzerland’s constitution and do little to fight extremism or crime. They say the weapons used in recent attacks in Europe weren’t obtained legally. They argue it will crack down mainly on lawful gun owners in Switzerland and ram through what they perceive as the latest diktat from Brussels on the rich country.

Jean-Luc Addor, a Swiss People’s Party lawmaker from the southwestern Valais region, said adopting the EU directive would be “unjust, freedom-killing, useless, dangerous, and above all, anti-Swiss.”

“With no effect on the fight against terrorism, it will only hit honest, law-abiding citizens who possess legal weapons (so, us!),” he wrote on his website. “It’s the epitome of injustice.”

Switzerland hasn’t faced major extremist attacks like those that have hit France, Belgium, Britain and Germany in recent years, leaving scores dead.

Pre-vote polls suggested most of the major political parties — except for the populist Swiss People’s Party — were in favour, with support strongest among Socialists and Greens.

The rift on the issue has fallen largely along a rural-urban divide, with city dwellers generally more inclined to back the EU directive.

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