Europeans haven’t had a great experience with referendums lately, but Switzerland has proven to be the exception. On Sunday (May 19), Swiss voters overwhelmingly agreed to enact stricter gun control laws to comply with changes in European Union regulations.
In November 2015, militants affiliated with the Islamic State attacked six locations in Paris. Armed with assault rifles and explosives, they killed 130 people and wounded 494 more. After the carnage, the European Union moved to enact stricter firearms laws to prevent semiautomatic rifles and handguns from circulating between member states with different laws (paywall).
Switzerland is not an EU member, but it is part of the open-border Schengen area. If it had not changed its gun laws to align with the new EU regulations, the country could have jeopardized its Schengen status. This would have imposed passport restrictions on Swiss citizens traveling within the EU and raised the costs of trading Swiss goods and services within the zone. The change had already been approved by the Swiss parliament, but gun lobbyists and right-wing politicians pushed for the issue to be put to a referendum.
Provisional results showed that 64% of Swiss voters voted in favor of tightening gun laws.
Switzerland has a lengthy tradition of gun ownership. According to The Washington Post (paywall):
“Switzerland has long held a unique status in the Western world for having one of the world’s highest per capita gun ownership rates but very few shooting deaths. To the Swiss, semiautomatic rifles and other weapons were long a sacred part of their culture. After the end of their mandatory military service, about half of all conscripts would take their military-issued weapons back home, in what Swiss leaders long argued was an effective way to uphold the country’s ability to defend itself. But the ratio of former soldiers taking their weapons home has fallen to about 10 percent, amid other signs that the Swiss weapons culture is changing.”
Under the new law, certain kinds of semi-automatic firearms will be banned and Swiss gun owners will need to justify why they need a gun and secure a special permit to buy new semi-automatic weapons. Military service firearms will still be allowed.