Re: Armed to the Teeth, and Free by Stephen P. Halbrook

Joe E. Dees (
Mon, 7 Jun 1999 17:29:56 -0500

Date sent:      	Mon, 7 Jun 1999 14:46:26 -0400
From:           	Matthew Gaylor <>
Subject:        	Armed to the Teeth, and Free by Stephen P. Halbrook
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> Armed to the Teeth, and Free by Stephen P. Halbrook
> The Wall Street Journal Europe
> June 4, 1999
Do the Swiss allow their convicted violent criminals and certified mentally incompetent to possess arms?
> In 1994, when the U.S. Congress debated whether to ban "assault weapons," a
> talk show host asked then-Senator Bill Bradley (New Jersey), a sponsor of
> the ban, whether guns cause crime. The host noted that, in Switzerland, all
> males are issued assault riūes for militia service and keep them at home,
> yet little crime exists there. Sen. Bradley responded that the Swiss "are
> pretty dull."
> For those who think that target shooting is more fun than golf, however,
> Switzerland is anything but "dull." By car or train, you see shooting
> ranges everywhere, but few golf courses. If there is a Schuetzenfest
> (shooting festival) in town, you will Ūnd riūes slung on hat racks in
> restaurants, and you will encounter men and women, old and young, walking,
> biking and taking the tram with riūes over their shoulders, to and from the
> range. They stroll right past the police station and no one bats an eye.
> (Try this in the U.S., and a SWAT Team might do you in.)
> Tourists — especially those from Japan, where guns are banned to all but
> the police — think it’s a revolution. But shooting is the national sport,
> and the backbone of the national defense as well. More per capita Ūrepower
> exists in Switzerland than in any other place in the world, yet it is one
> of the safest places to be.
> According to the U.N. International Study on Firearm Regulation, England's
> 1994 homicide rate was 1.4 (9% involving Ūrearms), and the robbery rate
> 116, per 100,000 population. In the United States, the homicide rate was
> 9.0 (70% involving Ūrearms), and the robbery rate 234, per 100,000. England
> has strict gun control laws, ergo, the homicide rate is lower than in the
> U.S. However, such comparisons can be dangerous: In 1900, when England had
> no gun controls, the homicide rate was only 1.0 per 100,000.
> Moreover, using data through 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice study
> "Crime and Justice" concluded that in England the robbery rate was 1.4
> times higher, the assault rate was 2.3 times higher, and the burglary rate
> was 1.7 times higher than in the U.S. This suggests that lawfully armed
> citizens in the U.S. deter such crimes. Only the murder and rape rates in
> the U.S. were higher than in England. The small number of violent predators
> who commit most of these crimes in the U.S. have little trouble arming
> themselves unlawfully.
> The U.N. study omits mention of Switzerland, which is awash in guns and has
> substantially lower murder and robbery rates than England, where most guns
> are banned.
> Here are the Ūgures: The Swiss Federal Police OfŪce reports that in 1997
> there were 87 intentional homicides and 102 attempted homicides in the
> entire country. Some 91 of these 189 murders and attempts involved Ūrearms.
> With its population of seven million (including 1.2 million foreigners),
> Switzerland had a homicide rate of 1.2 per 100,000. There were 2,498
> robberies (and attempted robberies), of which 546 involved Ūrearms,
> resulting in a robbery rate of 36 per 100,000. Almost half of these crimes
> were committed by non-resident foreigners, whom locals call "criminal
> tourists."
> Sometimes, the data sound too good to be true. In 1993, not a single armed
> robbery was reported in Geneva.
> No one seems to be looking at the Swiss example in the U.S., however.
> Congress is stampeding to pass additional Ūrearm restrictions in response
> to the events of April 20, when two students used guns and bombs to murder
> a dozen classmates and a teacher in Littleton, Colorado. Yet in 1996, a man
> who legally owned guns under England's strict regulations went on a
> rampage, murdering 16 children and a teacher in Dunblane, Scotland.
> Parliament then banned all handguns and most riūes.
> But there have been no school massacres in Switzerland, where guns and kids
> mix freely. At shooting matches, bicycles aplenty are parked outside.
> Inside the Ūring shelter, the competitors pay 12-year-olds tips to keep
> score. The 16-year-olds shoot riūes with men and women of all ages. In
> fact, the tourist brochure "Zurich News" recommends September's
> Knabenschiessen (boy's shooting contest) as a must-see: "The oldest Zurich
> tradition . . . consists of a shooting contest at the Albisguetli (range)
> for 12 to 16 year-old boys and girls and a colorful three-day fun-fair."
> The event has been held since 1657, and attracts thousands of teenage
> participants and spectators.
> While many shoot for sport, all males aged 20 to 42 are required by militia
> system regulation to keep riūes and/or pistols at home. In addition, gun
> shops abound. Yet Ūrearms are rarely used in crime. Homicide is tied to a
> willingness to resort to violence, not the mere presence of guns. The
> prevalence of Ūrearms in the home and the participation of youth in
> shooting matches bind youth to adults and discourages a generation gap.
> By contrast, homicide rates are highest in the underdeveloped countries,
> many of which ban private Ūrearm possession. In some, private murder does
> not compare to the genocidal murder committed by governments against their
> unarmed subjects.
> In America, Ūrearms take on a sinister reputation from the nightly news and
> violent movies. But in Switzerland, Ūrearms symbolize a wholesome,
> community activity. The typical weekend shooting festival brings out the
> entire family. Beside the range is a huge tent where scores or hundreds of
> people are eating, drinking, and socializing.
> With cantonal and riūe club banners ūuttering in the wind, the melody of
> riūe Ūre blends with Alpine music and cow bells.
> Since its founding in 1291, Switzerland has depended on an armed populace
> for its defense. William Tell used a crossbow not only to shoot the apple
> from his son's head, but also to kill the tyrant Gessler. For centuries,
> the cantonal republic defeated the powerful armies of the European
> monarchs. Machiavelli wrote in 1532: "The Swiss are well armed and enjoy
> great freedom."
> This coincidence has not escaped the notice of those who oppose liberty.
> Monarchist philosopher Jean Bodin, writing in 1606, denounced free speech
> and arms possession by commoners. Subjects must be disarmed to prevent
> democratic sedition, he said. The Swiss proved, Bodin wrongly averred, that
> arms bearing was "the cause of an inŪnite number of murders."
> The Swiss militia model, however, preserved democracy and held Europe’s
> despots at bay. In fact, it inspired the rebellious American colonists.
> John Adams praised the democratic Swiss Cantons, where every man was
> entitled to vote on laws and to bear arms. Patrick Henry, another American
> Founding Father, lauded the Swiss for maintaining their independence
> without "a mighty and splendid President" or a standing army.
> The Swiss inūuence is clear in the Second Amendment to the U.S.
> Constitution, which provides: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to
> the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear
> arms, shall not be infringed." Today, it has become fashionable to hate
> this orphan of the Bill of Rights.
> However, a quick glance at history shows that tyrannical governments kill
> far more than do private criminals. But Ūrst, governments must disarm their
> victims. In 1933, the Nazis seized power via massive search-and-seizure
> operations for Ūrearms against "Communists," i.e., all political opponents.
> In 1938, during the Night of the Broken Glass, they disarmed the Jews. When
> the Nazis occupied Europe in 1939-41, they proclaimed the death penalty for
> any person who failed to surrender all Ūrearms within 24 hours.
> There may be various reasons why the Nazis did not invade Switzerland, but
> one of those reasons is that every Swiss man had a riūe at home. For this
> we have no better record than the Nazi invasion plans, which stated that,
> because of the Swiss shooting skills, Switzerland would be difŪcult to
> conquer and pacify. European countries occupied by the Nazis had strict gun
> controls before the war, and the registration lists facilitated conŪscation
> of Ūrearms and the execution of their owners.
> By being able to keep out of both world wars in part through the dissuasive
> factor of an armed populace, Switzerland demonstrates that civilian Ūrearm
> possession may prevent large numbers of deaths and even genocide. The
> Holocaust never came to Switzerland, the Jewish population of which was
> armed just like their fellow citizens. In the rest of Europe, what if there
> had been not just one, but two, three, or many Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings?
> Traditionally, the Swiss Cantons had few Ūrearm regulations. The Ūrst
> federal Ūrearms law was recently enacted. Certain Ūrearm purchases require
> a permit, and others do not. On retirement, every soldier may keep his riūe
> or pistol. Surplus assault riūes may be purchased by any Swiss citizen from
> the Military Department.
> The bottom line is one of attitude. Populations with training in civic
> virtue, though armed, do not experience sensational massacres or high crime
> rates. Indeed, armed citizens deter crime. Switzerland Ūts this mold.
> Similarly, America's lawful "gun culture" is peaceful. Sadly, some of its
> subcultures are not.
> - From The Wall Street Journal Europe
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