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The key numbers that tell the story of guns in Switzerland

With Switzerland about to vote on tighter gun laws in a referendum on Sunday, we took a look at the figures that shed a light on the country's complicated relationship with guns.

The key numbers that tell the story of guns in Switzerland
Illustration photo: AFP

Sunday's referendum will see Swiss voters decide whether the country should tighten its gun laws by adopting the European Union's revised Firearms Directive.

If voters don't back the changes, Switzerland could be could out of Europe's Schengen border-free area – which the Swiss government argues cost the country billion of Swiss francs.

But there is strong opposition to tighter gun controls in Switzerland, where military service is compulsory and plenty of people are comfortable around firearms.

Below are eight figures which help explain Switzerland's complicated but close relationship with guns.

Three: This is the number of mass shootings in Switzerland in the last 20 years. In the worst of these, a man entered the parliament building of the canton of Zug in late September 2001 and killed 14 politicians with four different guns. He then killed himself. In the second incident, in February 2013, a worker used a gun to kill four employees before dying from gun wounds himself at the Kronospan wood processing plant in Menznau in the canton of Lucerne. And in 2015, a man in the canton of Aargau killed his parents-in-law and his brother-in-law as well as a neighbour before turning the gun on himself.

Read also: What you need to know about Switzerland's crucial gun control referendum


13 percent: This is proportion of Swiss who kept their service weapon after completing compulsory military service in 2018. The total number of rifles taken home was 2,287 and the total number of pistols was 811. That was down from 43 percent in 2004 (when just over 20,000 rifles and around 11,800 pistols were taken home).

The decline has two chief causes, according to Swiss daily Basler Zeitung. In 2005, the army introduced an administrative fee (100 Swiss francs, or €88, for rifles and 30 francs for pistols) for those wish to keep their weapons. Then, in 2009, the army introduced tougher new requirements. These include the need to apply for a weapons licence and, for rifles, being able to prove that you have regularly participated in target shooting.

22: This is the number of people in Switzerland murdered with a firearm in 2018, according to the Federal Statistics Office (FSO). The average for the period from 2014–2018 was 33.2.

By contrast, the United States saw 11,208 firearms homicides by firearm in 2013, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is about ten times the Swiss rate for such murders.

(Police officials gather at the scene of a shooting outside a branch of UBS bank in Zurich on February 23, 2018. Two people were shot dead in central Zurich. AFP)

The average number of murders in Switzerland in the period 2009–2016 was 49 – down 38 percent compared to the period from 2000 to 2004, also according to the FSO. The percentage of murders involving firearms dropped from 34 percent in 2000–2004 to 20 percent in the later period.

The reasons for this decline are not known, but it has been speculated that the smaller number of army weapons in Swiss homes could be partly responsible. This is because fewer people are choosing to purchase their service weapons (see the section '13 percent' above) when they complete military service, and because the Swiss army is now smaller.

Overall, the homicide rate in Switzerland – including all murders and not just those involving guns – dropped from 1.5 per 100,000 people in 1983 to 0.5 per 100,000 people in 2016.

27.6: This is the estimated number civilian-held firearms per 100 residents in Switzerland, according to the Geneva-based organization Small Arms Survey. That is the 16th highest rate in the world. According to Small Arms Survey, the US has the highest rate – 120.5 per 100 residents.


211: This was the number of suicides involving firearms in Switzerland in 2015. This was down from 318 in 2004 and 436 in 1995.

In 2015, suicides made up 91.3 percent of all gun deaths in Switzerland.  

The overall suicide rate in Switzerland was 12.96 per 100,000 inhabitants against the European Union average of 10.91 percent according to Eurostat. However, the proportion of suicides in Switzerland involving the use of firearms is very high by European standards.

130,000: This is the number of members of Swiss Shooting, a sports association representing target shooters. That makes the third largest sports association in the country.

865,000: This was the number of weapons listed in cantonal registers in Switzerland in 2018.

2,332,000: This is the estimated number of civilian-held firearms in Switzerland, according to Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. The figure includes former service rifles taken home by recruits who have completed their military service. Also included in the data for Switzerland are an estimated 1,540,281 unregistered firearms – a figure that is very difficult to establish and which can comprise everything from tailor-made sports rifles to crude, ‘home-made' hunting guns, depending on the country.

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