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Guns in Switzerlandby Daniel Johnson, Deputy Executive Editor
Gun advocates hold up Switzerland as an example of gun freedom--they could not be more wrong.
(CALGARY, Alberta) - Uh-merican gun nuts prominently tout Switzerland as an example of a country that requires adult males to be armed and yet has a low firearms homicide rate. It sounds good on the surface until you dig a little deeper (which right-wingers seldom do) and discover that not only are the differences between the two nations like night and day but that Switzerland and Finland routinely compete for the highest annual rate of gun death in Western Europe.
A more significant comparative factor is that Switzerland has a population of only 8 million, about one fortieth of the U.S. In addition Switzerland is a federation of cantons and citizens regularly participate in plebiscites to decide on local and national issues—Direct democracy.
The rise of Switzerland as a federal state began on September 12, 1848, when the federal constitution was created in response to a 27-day civil war in Switzerland, the Sonderbundskrieg. The constitution, which was heavily influenced by the US Constitution and the ideas of the French Revolution, was modified several times during the following decades and wholly replaced in 1999. The constitution represents the first time that the Swiss were governed by a strong central government instead of being simply a collection of independent cantons bound by treaties. Because of historical federalist sensibilities, Swiss law does not designate a formal capital, and some federal institutions such as courts are located in other cities. (The U.S. could learn much from the constitutional experiences of the Swiss.)
In Switzerland, members of the militia and private citizens alike are tightly regulated in regards to gun ownership. Despite NRA claims like, “young adults in Zurich are subject to minimal gun control,” the truth is that Switzerland has very strict gun laws that American gun rights groups would consider “tyrannical.”
It is highly unlikely that any American gun-nut could actually live there. They could not tolerate what Peter C. Newman calls Switzerland’s “regimented mentality”. He gives this example:
“Garbage collection is a weekly production. We had been living in Switzerland for most of a year when we flew to London on a Sunday morning. That meant having to put out the garbage, which is usually collected Tuesday mornings, out early. And that, in turn, resulted in our only run-in with the Swiss police. By putting out the garbage too early we had committed a faux pas serious enough that we were warned one more such demeanour would bring a police summons.”
In Switzerland military service is compulsory and about 10% of the population is active in the army at any one time. Later, they must keep their guns and kits at home in order to be mobilized more quickly. John McPhee, the long time (1965 to present) New Yorker writer wrote “Switzerland does not have an army. Switzerland is an army.” As Daniel Mockli, a security expert at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, explains:
“This is a country where you are both a citizen and a soldier. We have a militia here and the gun reflects a sense of responsibility and trust given you by the state. Here the debate on guns is about national security, whereas in the U.S. it is about protecting yourself.”
Switzerland has maintained its armed neutrality for centuries and the fundamental reason they were not invaded during WW2 was because Hitler and his allies said to themselves, the equivalent of: “Why should I attack the country where I’ve stashed my illegal millions?” Indeed.
In Switzerland, “Environmental misdeeds of any magnitude—like throwing a cigarette butt into a river—are high on their list of serious infractions, and rightly so”, writes Newman. “When you are a guest, whether in their homes or their country, you conduct yourself accordingly, with dignity and decorum.” These last two attitudes do not come easily, if at all, to Americans when in other countries.
In 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer published a political novel The Ugly American. The title is actually a double entendre, referring both to the physically unattractive hero, Homer Atkins, and to the ugly behavior of the American government employees. The book was a bestseller and turned into a 1963 movie starring Marlon Brando. Dictionary.com defines "the Ugly American" as: Pejorative term for Americans traveling or living abroad who remain ignorant of local culture and judge everything by American standards. Ugly Americans are loud, boorish and arrogant, whose behaviour reinforces the negative stereotype of Americans in many countries.
A few years ago I read a story about a Canadian couple visiting New Zealand. They were in a restaurant and were about to leave when the waitress asked them if they were Canadians. Yes, they replied, what made you think that? Because, the waitress replied, you said “please” and “thank you”.
Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Daniel Johnson as a teenager aspired to be a writer. Always a voracious reader, he reads more books in a month than many people read in a lifetime. He also reads 100+ online articles per week. He knew early that in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader.
He has always been concerned about fairness in the world and the plight of the underprivileged/underdog.
As a professional writer he sold his first paid article in 1974 and, while employed at other jobs, started selling a few pieces in assorted places.
Over the next 15 years, Daniel eked out a living as a writer doing, among other things, national writing and both radio and TV broadcasting for the CBC, Maclean’s (the national newsmagazine) and a wide variety of smaller publications. Interweaved throughout this period was soul-killing corporate and public relations writing.
It was through the 1960s and 1970s that he got his university experience. In his first year at the University of Calgary, he majored in psychology/mathematics; in his second year he switched to physics/mathematics. He then learned of an independent study program at the University of Lethbridge where he attended the next two years, studying philosophy and economics. In the end he attended university over nine years (four full time) but never qualified for a degree because he didn't have the right number of courses in any particular field.
In 1990 he published his first (and so far, only) book: Practical History: A guide to Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” (Polymath Press, Calgary)
Newly appointed as the Deputy Executive Editor in August 2011, he has been writing exclusively for Salem-News.com since March 2009 and, as of summer 2011, has published more than 160 stories.
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