The Right to Bear Arms

With the US once again debating gun control, pro gun rights advocates are looking to other countries as examples. Gun rights supporters point to countries with high rates of gun ownership but low rates of gun related crime as evidence that ownership is not the problem nor is ownership restriction. The one country which often gets referenced as an example of high gun ownership which works is Switzerland.

The small Alpine country more famous for cheese, chocolate and banking has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of gun ownership and the lowest rate of gun crime and gun violence.

If something is tied to something else it is connected. ‘My raise was tied to my doing well on my annual review.’

At first look, the Swiss example seems tight. However, the bare numbers showing ownership hide major legal differences between the US and Switzerland. Swiss gun ownership is high because all Swiss men from the age of 20 to 30 are expected to be part of the country’s militia. Ownership is tied to military service.

It would be quite difficult to say that the different mentalities about gun ownership – as part of public duty on one side versus inalienable right on the other – is the base cause of the difference between the high gun violence in the US and the low rate of gun problems in Switzerland. An article in Time Magazine said that Switzerland has “a culture of responsibility”. However, this argument is again a bit superficial and could be seen as an insult to those US gun owners who are responsible.

Because gun ownership is part of militia service it means ownership is much more restricted than in the US. Permits are required and the conditions for obtaining a permit are very difficult. Also in Switzerland, per capita gun ownership is about half that of the US. Swiss people, especially in the French speaking cantons, are more likely to store their guns in depots and those cantons have lower rates of gun-related suicides.

So while Switzerland appears to be a gun-lovers haven, its gun laws are quite different. Maybe Finland which is Europe’s next most armed country per capita is a closer example to the US. Hunting is one of the main reasons that Finns give for having guns. Finns are required to have a license for each gun and the guns have to be stored properly. Also, and this point is critical, self-defence is not considered a valid reason for owning a gun in Finland. There are other laws that Finland has regarding getting a gun permit that the US does not have. If gun rights activists look at Europe’s two most armed nations as models, they are actually giving examples of stricter control than the US has.

If you are speaking about ‘parallels’ between two things you are looking at how they are similar.

The next question is whether the more liberal attitudes to gun ownership in the US cause the higher rates of gun-related deaths. There certainly seems to be a high association because the US ranks as the top country in the developed world for fire-arm related deaths. However, the data is tricky. El Salvador is number one in the world in gun-related deaths but they have very low gun ownership. But if we focus on the developed countries, there are some parallels between gun ownership and gun-related deaths. Switzerland, Finland, France and Austria have the highest rates of gun-related death in Europe and they are also among the top six gun owning nations. The UK in contrast has low ownership and a very low hand-gun murder rate.

However, it’s not hard to find statistics which can challenge the idea that high gun ownership is dangerous. For example, the statistics from the US show the murder rate by firearms decreasing since 2006 while at the same time the right to carry a firearm has been made easier. Other studies claim the evidence hasn’t been clear. The debate is not going to be resolved by numbers alone, but gun rights advocates in the US probably shouldn’t look to Europe for examples.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team


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The United States is again discussing gun control and its supporters are looking to other countries as examples. Supporters mention countries where lots of people own guns, yet gun-related crime is not a problem.

Let´s look at Switzerland. The small Alpine country, more famous for cheese, chocolate and banking, has one of the world’s highest numbers of gun ownership and the lowest numbers of gun crime and gun violence. However, at closer look, Swiss gun ownership is so high because all Swiss men from the age of 20 to 30 are part of the country’s militia. In fact it is their duty to have a gun. This is very different from the US, where people carry guns simply because they want to.

Gun ownership is much more restricted in countries where it is part of militia service. It is far from easy to get a permit to carry gun. Moreover, Swiss people, especially in the French speaking regions, have their guns in depots and also have lower rates of gun-related suicides.

Finland is the country with the second highest number of people carrying guns in Europe. Hunting is the main reason that Finns give for having guns. But like in Switzerland, the conditions for getting a permit are stricter than in the US. And self-defence is not a reason for carrying a gun in Finland. Plus it is always up to the police to decide. In the US you can get a gun if you meet certain criteria.

Why is it the US (or the Czech Republic) but just Finland or Switzerland? With most countries the article is not used. But, we use the definite article with countries whose names include words like kingdom, states or republic: the United Kingdom. We also use the definite article with countries which have plural nouns as their names: the Netherlands.

The next question is: Is there a relationship between gun ownership and gun-related deaths? Switzerland, Finland, France and Austria have the highest rates of gun-related death in Europe and they are also among the top six gun owning nations. The UK in contrast has low ownership and a very low hand-gun murder rate. On the other hand in the US the murder rate by firearms decreased since 2006 whereas in the same period the right to carry a firearm was quite relaxed.

This debate is going to continue, but one thing is clear – there is no reason to compare the US and European countries as the laws differ significantly.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team


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With the gun control debate once again raging in the US, pro gun rights advocates are looking to other countries as examples. Gun rights supporters point to countries with high rates of gun ownership yet relatively low rates of gun related crime as evidence that ownership is not the problem nor is restrictions on said ownership the answer. The one country which repeatedly gets referenced as an example of high gun ownership which works is Switzerland.

Yes, Switzerland. The small Alpine country more famous for cheese, chocolate and banking has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of gun ownership and the lowest rate of gun crime and gun violence. Gun rights proponents only need to look to Switzerland’s neighbour Germany to find a country with more restricted gun ownership but higher gun-related violence.

If an argument is ‘watertight’, it means it is solid and will be hard to debate. ‘Inalienable’ is similar – it means absolute or unchallengeable. However, the words can’t really be used interchangeably.

On the surface the Swiss example seems watertight. However, the bare numbers showing ownership mask substantial legal differences between the US and Switzerland. Swiss gun ownership is high because all Swiss men from the age of 20 to 30 are expected to be part of the country’s militia. Ownership is tied to military service. In essence it is a duty. This is a far cry from the idea that it is an individual right as interpreted by gun advocates in the US.

It would be quite difficult to establish that the different mentalities about gun ownership – as part of public duty on one side versus inalienable right on the other – is the root cause of the difference between the high gun violence in the US and the low rate of incidents in Switzerland. An article in Time Magazine made the case that Switzerland has “a culture of responsibility”. However, this argument is again a bit superficial and could be seen as an insult to those US gun owners who are responsible.

‘Packing heat’ is a slang term for carrying a gun.

However, framing the ownership as part of militia service means ownership is more restricted – significantly more restricted than in the US. Permits are required and the conditions for obtaining a permit are notably stricter than the US. Though Swiss pride in gun ownership has been noted in the press and shooting for sport is a popular pastime, the law still sees those guns as bound to a person’s role in the militia. Contrary to popular belief, not all Swiss are packing heat. Per capita ownership is about half that of the US. Also Swiss people, especially in the French speaking cantons, are more likely to store their guns in depots and those cantons have lower rates of gun-related suicides.

So while Switzerland appears to be a gun-lovers haven, its gun laws are quite different. Maybe Finland which is Europe’s next most armed country per capita is a closer approximation because the Finns have guns more for sport than as part of military duty. Hunting is one of the main reasons that Finns give for having guns. However, a focus on just numbers can overlook subtle differences. Finns are required to have a license for each gun and the guns have to be stored properly. Also, and this point is crucial, self-defence is not considered a valid reason for owning a gun in Finland. Plus the issuing of the license is up to the police’s discretion, which is different to the ‘shall-issue’ approach in many US states. Shall-issue means that, providing certain criteria have been met, the license is issued. Therefore, if gun rights activists look at Europe’s two most armed nations as models, they are in effect pointing to examples of stricter control than the US has.

If something ‘begs the question’ it means it is an obvious point to make or question to ask.

This of course begs the question – do the more liberal attitudes to gun ownership in the US cause the higher rates of gun-related deaths? There certainly seems to be a high correlation with the US ranking as the top country in the developed world for fire-arm related deaths. However, the data is tricky. El Salvador which tops the world in gun-related deaths is quite low in gun ownership. So other factors obviously play a role. But if we focus on the developed countries – assuming that social and economic situations are similar – there are some parallels between gun ownership and gun-related deaths. Switzerland, Finland, France and Austria have the highest rates of gun-related death in Europe and they are also among the top six gun owning nations – only the Swedes and Norse have more guns per capita than the French and Austrians. The UK in contrast has low ownership and a very low hand-gun murder rate.

But as everyone knows correlation is not cause and it’s not hard to find statistics which can challenge the idea that high gun ownership is dangerous. For example, the statistics from the US show the murder rate by firearms decreasing since 2006 whereas in the same period the right to carry a firearm has been quite relaxed. Then again Public Health Law Research argued in 2009 that there was not enough evidence to suggest there is link between shall-issue laws and a reduction in violent crime. Clearly the debate is not going to be resolved by numbers alone, but one thing is clear – the gun control debate in the US probably shouldn’t look to Europe for examples.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia


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