Switzerland rejects tighter gun controls

A man fires a pistol at a shooting range near Bern, Switzerland - 6 January 2011 Sport shooting is very popular in Switzerland

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Swiss voters have rejected proposed tighter controls on gun ownership, final results show.

Twenty of the 26 cantons and 56.3% of voters rejected the plan, meaning the current system allowing army-issue weapons to be kept at home will remain.

Supporters of the tighter curbs wanted to have weapons kept in armouries and were demanding stricter checks on gun owners.

Opponents said the move would have undermined trust in the army.

For the proposal to succeed, it required the support of the majority of both citizens and cantons.

Geneva and Basel both bucked the trend by approving it, according to the Swissinfo website.

But German- and Italian-speaking cantons outvoted the plan's supporters in the French-speaking west.

'Growing awareness'

The result is a blow to gun-control groups in Switzerland, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva reports, but supporters of the initiative said they had at least started a debate.

Start Quote

A disarmed army is a weakened army - the Swiss people have recognised this”

End Quote Swiss People's Party statement

"We achieved a great deal by launching the initiative... There is a growing awareness of the risks of firearms," leading women's organisation Alliance F said in a statement quoted by Swissinfo.

The right wing Swiss People's Party, which opposed the move, described the result as "the Swiss people's affirmation of their proud shooting tradition", AFP news agency reported.

"A disarmed army is a weakened army. The Swiss people have recognised this. With today's 'no' on the weapons initiative, they have clearly rejected those army abolitionists," it said in a statement.

There are an estimated two to three million guns circulating in Switzerland.

No-one knows the exact number because there is no national firearms register, our correspondent adds.

In addition to the semi-automatic assault rifle that all those serving in the army can opt to store at home, there are thousands of hunting rifles and pistols.

Serving and former soldiers have been allowed to keep their weapons at home since World War II.

The proposal to end that custom was backed by a coalition of doctors, women's groups and police associations.

Although Switzerland's overall crime rate is low by European standards, the country has the highest rate of gun suicide in Europe.

The proposal's backers had argued that keeping soldiers' firearms locked up in armouries would reduce the suicide rate.

A number of high-profile killings in recent years - such as the shooting of ski star Corinne Rey-Bellet by her estranged husband in 2006 - have also boosted support for greater gun control.

But the Swiss army is a national institution, and changing anything about it is controversial, says our correspondent.

Opponents of the proposals said taking soldiers' guns away would undermine the military and could open the door to abolishing Switzerland's citizen army all together.

The debate over its future will continue, with another referendum in the pipeline aimed at abolishing military service.

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