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Why you might hear gunfire in your Swiss neighbourhood

One thing you should get accustomed to while living in Switzerland is the sound of gunfire.

Why you might hear gunfire in your Swiss neighbourhood
Firearms — and shooting practices — are part of Swiss culture. Photo by STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP

This may sound like a paradox in this neutral and peace-loving country, but it is nevertheless true.

Right now and throughout the summer, you may be hearing gun shots in your area, especially in you live in a small or rural community. And depending on where you are, the sound of gunfire may blend harmoniously with the ringing of cow bells — what could be more ‘Swiss’ than that?

You will notice, however, that nobody here is alarmed, and you shouldn’t be either: it is  just the Swiss doing what comes naturally to them: firing their weapons.

Why exactly is sharpshooting ‘natural’ for the Swiss?

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. 

The soldiers who have been issued an assault rifle must complete a shooting exercise  every year until they are discharged from military duty.

This usually takes place in spring and summer, which may explain why you are hearing the sounds of gunfire now, especially if you live within the hearing range of a military base.

Swiss soldier fires a machine gun during a shooting exercise. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Then, there are also numerous civilians who practice target shooting as a hobby.

There are plenty of gun clubs throughout the country where people of all ages — including children as young as five — can hone their sharpshooting skills. These clubs are grouped under the umbrella organisation, the Swiss Target Shooting Federation. 
This may sound shocking to some, but in fact, firing guns in Switzerland — whether by soldiers or civilians — is all about safety.

The Swiss learn to shoot from an early age, and develop a deep sense of responsibility toward their firearms, which accounts for the relatively low (in comparison with other countries) rate of gun violence.

However, mishaps sometimes do happen:

READ ALSO: Swiss soldier fined after ‘forgetting’ about gun in car

Youngsters can show off their (safe and responsible) skills during shooting festivals, including  Knabenschiessen, the world’s largest youth rifle competition for 12 to 16-year-olds held in Zurich every September.

This video is a humorous though factual take on Switzerland’s gun culture.

Who is allowed to own a firearm in Switzerland, and under what conditions?

You can own a gun if you are a Swiss citizen and are at least 18 years old; are mentally stable; there is no reason for authorities to believe you may use the weapon to harm yourself or others; and have no criminal record indicating you pose a danger to public safety.

A permit is needed to own a weapon.

A written contract between the seller and buyer, as well as the weapon being sold / purchased must be established.

And If the weapon is a firearm, the seller must send a copy of the contract to the buyer’s cantonal firearms office within 30 days of concluding the contract. 

READ ALSO: How to explain Switzerland’s obsession with guns

Can foreigners own a gun and participate in target shooting practice?

If you have a C permit, your rights to own and use a firearm are the same as for the Swiss (see above).

Others are subject to stricter rules, according to the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol):

“Foreign nationals who do not possess a long-term residence permit require a weapons acquisition permit for all types of weapons and their essential components. They must also have an official certificate from their canton of residence or country of origin confirming that they are authorised to acquire the weapon or main components.”

Citizens of certain countries, however, are not allowed to acquire weapons or essential components.These countries are: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

The reason for the exclusions is that “there have been ethnically or politically motivated confrontations in Switzerland between members of the warring factions from these countries (or there is a real risk of confrontation),” according to Fedpol.

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Why are so many international sporting organisations based in Switzerland?

Switzerland has been rocked by the news that FIFA has amended its rules to allow the possible moving of its headquarters from Zurich. However, it’s hardly the only international sporting organisation based in Switzerland. Why is that the case? 

Why are so many international sporting organisations based in Switzerland?

Swiss media reports that FIFA laid the groundwork for a potential exit from the city via a vote held Friday, May 17th, during the body’s congress in Bangkok, that changed its governing statutes. 

Despite this move, FIFA has announced it’s ‘happy’ to remain in Zurich.

Even after a potential departure, Switzerland would still claim to be the world’s centre for sports.

In all over 70 organisations overseeing international sports have headquarters in the country. 

Of course, the most famous is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which was founded in Lausanne by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, in 1915. 

READ MORE: What is the secret to Switzerland’s Olympic success?

In the century that followed, several other organisations related to the Olympics and the governing bodies of several popular sports have also based themselves in the lakeside city. 

The World Archery Federation, the International Boxing Association, European Gymnastics, World Triathlon, and several other bodies are based in Lausanne, which is close to the IOC. 

Lausanne is also home to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which seeks to mediate sporting disputes. At the same time, the World Anti-Doping Agency was headquartered there until 2002. 

Outside of Lausanne, the International Ice Hockey Federation is headquartered in Zurich. Basketball’s peak body, FIBA, is based in Basel, as is Europe’s football governing body, UEFA. 

An attractive base

Switzerland is the logical base for world sporting associations for the same reasons international diplomatic and scientific bodies such as the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and the World Health Organisation call the country home. 

First and foremost, Switzerland is the world’s oldest completely neutral country, recognised as such by the international community in 1815. It is not allied with any other significant power. It has stayed out of all the major world conflicts of the twentieth century. 

Switzerland also enjoys an attractive location at Europe’s ‘crossroads’, centrally located and with land borders adjoining several European powers. 

With four official languages, operating an international body within the country is more accessible, thanks to existing linguistic resources. 

In the end, however, money talks. 

The canton of Vaud, where Lausanne is located, does not tax international sporting organisations. Swiss law ostensibly treats them in much the same way as amateur sporting clubs.

There are no requirements to publish financial records, and there are very few other statutes to which they must adhere in their day-to-day operations.

Of course, this has raised the spectre of corruption – in just the last few years, the International Fencing Federation, the swimming governing body FINA and the IOC have been scrutinised over alleged bribes, kickbacks and links to Russian oligarchs. 

Most notably, FIFA itself was the centre of a corruption scandal in  involving its former head, Sepp Blatter, in 2015, 

While the Swiss government has yet to respond with legal changes to help preserve its image, some organisations are already working to prevent scrutiny. 

Most notably, the IOC and related bodies began publishing their financial accounts in 2015, while FIFA introduced a new ‘Code of Ethics’ last year. 

Several individuals also thought to be linked to bribes have also been disqualified from serving with their assoicated organisations.