Firearms regulation in Switzerland allows the acquisition of semi-automatic, and – with a may-issue permit – fully automatic firearms, by Swiss citizens and foreigners with or without permanent residence.[note 1] The laws pertaining to the acquisition of firearms in Switzerland are amongst the most liberal in the world. Swiss gun laws are primarily about the acquisition of arms, and not ownership. As such a license is not required to own a gun by itself, but a shall-issue permit is required to purchase most types of firearms. Bolt-action rifles do not require an acquisition permit, and can be acquired with just a background check. A reason is not required to be issued an acquisition permit for semi-automatics unless the reason is other than sport-shooting, hunting, or collecting. Permits for concealed carrying in public are issued sparingly.[note 2] The acquisition of fully automatic weapons, suppressors and target lasers requires special permits issued by the cantonal firearms office. Police use of hollow point ammunition is limited to special situations. 
The applicable federal legislations are SR 514.54 Federal Law on Weapons, Weapon Equipment and Ammunition (German: Waffengesetz, WG, French: Loi sur les armes, LArm, Italian: Legge sulle armi, LArm) of 20 June 1997 (current edition of 15 August 2019), and SR 514.541 Ordinance on Weapons, Armament Accessories and Ammunition (German: Waffenverordnung, WV, French: Ordonnance sur les armes, OArm, Italian: Ordinanza sulle armi, OArm) of 2 July 2008 (current edition of 15 August 2019). The Weapons Law recognises a qualified "right to acquire, possess and carry arms".[note 3]
Swiss gun culture has emerged from a long tradition of shooting (tirs), which served as a formative element of national identity in the post-Napoleonic Restoration of the Confederacy, and the long-standing practice of a militia organization of the Swiss Army in which soldiers' service rifles are stored privately at their homes. In addition to this, many cantons (notably the alpine cantons of Grisons and Valais) have strong traditions of hunting, accounting for a large but unknown number of privately held hunting rifles, as only weapons acquired since 2008 are registered. However, in a 2019 referendum voters opted to conform with European Union regulations which restrict the acquisition of semi-automatic firearms with high-capacity magazines. A permit for semi-automatic firearms equipped with high-capacity magazines is issued to anyone fulfilling art. 8 of the Weapons Act under the promise they will show after five and ten years that they're members of a shooting club, or that they used a firearm at least once a year within that five and ten years period  or to weapons collectors. The law pertaining to the acquisition of a high-capacity magazine by itself did not change.
Switzerland thus has a relatively high gun ownership rate. There are no official statistics, and estimates vary considerably.
The 2017 report from Small Arms Survey has estimated that the number of civilian-held firearms in Switzerland is of 2,332,000, which given a population of 8.4 million corresponds to a gun ownership of around 27.6 guns per 100 residents. Other estimates place the number of privately held firearms upwards to an average of 3,400,000, giving the nation an estimate of 41.2 guns per 100 people in 2017. The International Crime Victims Survey conducted in 2004-05 reported that approximately 28.6% of all households in Switzerland owned rifles and 10.3% owned handguns, giving Switzerland the second-highest percentage of firearm ownership in Europe.
When Switzerland joined the Schengen Information System in 2008, it was forced to introduce a central registry for firearms. Only firearms which changed hands since 2008 are registered. The number of registered firearms in this database was reported as 876,000 as of August 2017 which given a population of 8.4 million corresponds to around 10.3 registered guns per 100 residents.
Switzerland's Weapons Law (WG, LArm) and Weapons Act (WV, OArm) has been revised to accede to the Schengen Treaty effective 12 December 2008, and modified in 2019 after a referendum from the Swiss population to implement the European Firearms Directive which was added in the Schengen agreement. The Act on Personal Military Equipment (VPAA, OEPM) governs the handling of military equipment, and in particular the handling of personal weapons by military personnel.
The law is applied to the following weapons:
Generally prohibited weapons are:
In order to purchase most weapons, the purchaser must obtain a weapon acquisition permit (art. 8 WG/LArm). Swiss citizens and foreigners with a C permit over the age of 18 who are not under a curator nor identified as being a danger for themselves or others, and who do not have a criminal record with a conviction for a violent crime or of several convictions as long as they haven't been written out can request such a permit. Foreign nationals who do not have a settlement permit but who are resident in Switzerland must present the competent cantonal authority with an official attestation from their home country confirming they are authorised to acquire the weapon or essential weapon component in that country in order to buy (art. 9a WG/LArm). Foreigners with citizenship to the following countries are explicitly excluded from the right to buy, sell and own weapons and their parts unless they ask for an exceptional authorization to the state: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania.[note 1] The following information must be provided to the cantonal weapon bureau together with the weapon application form (art. 15 WV/OArm):
For each transfer of a weapon or an essential weapon component without weapons acquisition permit (art. 10 WG/LArm), a written contract must be concluded. Each Party shall keep them at least ten years. The contract must include the following information (art. 11 WG/LArm):
This information must be sent within 30 days to the cantonal weapon registration bureau, where the weapon holders are registered, though CO2 and airsoft guns are not concerned by this (art. 11 WGLArm)
The following weapons are governed solely by Articles 27 (carrying) and 28 (transportation) (art. 2 WG/LArm):
The following weapons can be acquired without acquisition permits (art. 10 WG/LArm):
The following weapons can be acquired with a shall-issue acquisition permit (art. 8 WG/LArm):
The following weapons can be acquired with a may-issue acquisition permit that can be issued for professional requirements, in particular with regard to carrying out protection duties, such as protecting persons, critical infrastructure or the transport of valuables; recreational target shooting; collecting; National defence requirements; Educational, cultural, research or historical purposes (art. 28c WG/LArm):
The following weapons from the generally prohibited category can be bought with a shall-issue exceptional permit for sport shooter; proof of regular use or membership of a club needs to be provided after 5 and 10 years. This verification is to be done only for the first weapon purchased with that kind of permit (art. 28d WG/LArm & art. 13c WV/OArm):
The following weapons from the generally prohibited category can be bought with a may-issue exceptional permit for collectors with proof that they are kept in a safe place and protected from access by unauthorised third persons (art. 28e WG/LArm):
The following weapons can be bought with a regular may-issue exceptional acquisition permit for professional requirements, use for industrial purposes, compensating for physical handicaps, or collecting (art. 28b WG/LArm):
In order to purchase ammunition, the buyer must fulfil the same legal rules that apply when buying guns[note 4] (art. 15 WG/LArm). Foreigners with citizenship to the following countries are explicitly excluded from the right to buy and own ammunition: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania.[note 1]
The buyer must provide the following information to the seller (art. 15, 16 WG/LArm; art. 24 WV/OArm):
However ammunition can be freely acquired during shooting events and range practice. Any person who has not yet reached the age of 18 may freely acquire ammunition if it is used for shooting immediately and under supervision (art. 16 § 1 & 2 WG/LArm)
The acquisition and possession of the following ammunition is generally prohibited but can be acquired for reasons such as industrial purposes, hunting or collecting (art. 26 WV):
Reloading of ammunition is allowed (art. 19 § 4 WG/LArm)
It is interesting to note that while the Swiss Weapons Act and its Ordinance don't limit the quantity of ammunition you can own and store, cantonal ordinances on regulations on preventive fire protection may limit the storage without appropriate paperwork. Zürich for instance limits the storage to 300kg of ammunition without permitting from the cantonal fire police (VVB art. F § 17 let. e)
Storage of weapons, essential weapon components, ammunition and ammunition components is regulated as following (art. 26 WG/LArm):
Further requirements are needed in regards to automatic firearms or firearms than have been converted to semi-automatic (art. 47 WV/OArm):
To carry a firearm in public or outdoors (and for a militia member to carry a firearm other than his issued weapons while off-duty), a person must have a gun carrying permit (German: Waffentragbewilligung, French: permis de port d'armes, Italian: permesso di porto di armi; art. 27 WG/LArm), which in most cases is issued only to private citizens working in occupations such as security. It is, however, quite common to see a person in military service or a sport shooter to be en route with his rifle, albeit unloaded. The issue of such exceptional permits are extremely selective (see #Conditions_for_obtaining_a_Carrying_Permit).
However, it is permissible to carry firearms in public or outdoors if the holder (art. 27 § 4 WG/LArm):
Furthermore, any licensed holder of a gun may transport an unloaded firearm for special situations (see #Transporting guns).
There are three conditions (art. 27 § 2 WG/LArm):
The carrying permit remains valid for a term of five years (unless otherwise surrendered or revoked), and applies only to the type of firearm for which the permit was issued. Additional constraints may be invoked to modify any specific permit. (art. 27 § 3 WG/LArm).
However, a person who wants to renew his or her firearms license does not need to retake the practical test if the test was passed less than three years ago. They do not need to retake the theory test on the same condition, provided that the legal provisions have not been significantly changed and that there is no doubt that they have sufficient knowledge of the legal conditions for using a weapon. (art. 48 § 4 WV/OArm)
Guns may be transported in public as long as an appropriate justification is present. This means to transport a gun in public, the following requirements apply (art. 28 WG/LArm):
A 2017 amendment to the European Firearms Directive, known as the "EU Gun Ban", introduces new restrictions on firearms possession and acquisition, especially on semi-automatic firearms, personal defense weapons, magazine capacity, blank firing guns and historical firearms. The restrictions must be introduced into the Swiss legal system by August 2018 due to its membership of the Schengen Area.
The Directive also includes an exemption covering a specific Swiss issue – it allows possession to a target shooter of one firearm used during the mandatory military period after leaving the army, provided it was converted to semi-automatic only (art. 6(6) of the Amendment Directive). This part of the Directive specifically was however challenged by the Czech Republic before the European Court of Justice due to its discriminatory nature. The Czech Republic seeks nullification of the "Swiss exemption" as well as of other parts of the Directive.
Civil rights organizations planned to hold a referendum to reject the amended EU directive. According to Swiss People's Party vice-president Christoph Blocher, Switzerland should consider abandoning EU's borderless Schengen Area if the Swiss people reject the proposed measures in a referendum.
In a referendum held on 19 May 2019, voters supported the stricter EU restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, as recommended by the government.
The Swiss army has long been a militia trained and structured to rapidly respond against foreign aggression. Swiss males grow up expecting to undergo basic military training, usually at age 20 in the recruit school, the basic-training camp, after which Swiss men remain part of the "militia" in reserve capacity usually until age 30 (age 34 for officers).
Prior to 2007, members of the Swiss Militia were supplied with 50 rounds of ammunition for their military weapon in a sealed ammo box that was regularly audited by the government (Pocket ammunition). This was so that, in the case of an emergency, the militia could respond quickly.
In December 2007, the Swiss Federal Council decided that the distribution of ammunition to soldiers would stop and that previously issued ammo would be returned. By March 2011, more than 99% of the ammo has been received. Only 2,000 specialist militia members (who protect airports and other sites of particular sensitivity) are permitted to keep their military-issued ammunition at home. The rest of the militia get their ammunition from their military armoury in the event of an emergency.
When their period of service has ended, militia men have the choice of buying their personal Stgw 90 after it has been converted to semi-automatic and keeping other selected items of their equipment. However, keeping the firearms after the end of service requires a weapon acquisition permit and in the case of the rifle to have participated in two repetition shootings (obligatorische Programm) and two Feldschiessen in the last three years of service (art. 26-33 VPAA/OEPM).
The government sponsors training with rifles and shooting in competitions for interested adolescents, both male and female. The sale of military-issued ammunition, including Gw Pat.90 rounds for army-issued assault rifles, is subsidized by the Swiss government and made available at the many Federal Council licensed shooting ranges. That ammunition sold at ranges to minors must be immediately used there under supervision (art. 16 WG/LArm).
The Swiss Army maintains tightened adherence to high standards of lawful military conduct. In 2005, for example, when the Swiss prosecuted recruits who had reenacted the torture scenes of Abu Ghraib, one of the charges was improper use of service weapons.
Recreational shooting is widespread in Switzerland. Practice with guns is a popular form of recreation, and is encouraged by the government, particularly for the members of the militia.
Prior to the turn of the century, about 200,000 people used to attend the annual Eidgenössisches Feldschiessen, which is the largest rifle shooting competition in the world. In 2012 they counted 130,000 participants. For the 2015 Federal Shooting (Eidg. Schützenfest) 37,000 shooters are registered. In addition, there are several private shooting ranges which rent guns.
See also: Global gun cultures § Switzerland
Switzerland has a strong gun culture compared to other countries in the world. In 2016 Swiss Olympic conducted a study on clubs and members in Switzerland: the Swiss Sport Shooting Federation is ranked second in terms of clubs (2,943) and fifth in terms of members (131,325). However the study conducted in 2020 showed the Swiss Sport Shooting Federation was ranked down to ninth position in terms of members despite an increase in licensees (135'997) but still remains at the second position in terms of clubs (2'569) despite a loss of about 400. Those affiliated with the Federation are shooters needing a license in order to compete, those that don't need one will probably not be members as it is not needed. Groups like ProTell lobby for the preservation of Switzerland's gun rights. Additionally, the Schweizerischer Schützenverein, a Swiss shooting association, organizes the Eidgenössische Schützenfeste, every five years and the Eidgenössisches Feldschiessen is held annually. Every person with a Swiss citizenship, aged 10 years or older, can take part at any federal ranges and will be able to shoot for free with the ordinance rifle.
Another possibility for the children to shoot is the Young Shooters: the SAT (lit. shooting and off-duty activities) funds lessons in which Swiss children can learn how to shoot using the SIG SG 550 starting at 15 years old for the regular course, but as young as 10. This activity is free and the Young Shooters are able to take home the rifle in-between the lessons if they are 17. For security reasons however, the bolt has to stay at the range in which they attend the lesson. This training takes place over a span of 6 years within a 3-4-month period each year and, if wanted, they can become instructors for the new generation of Young Shooters.
Traditionally liberal Swiss gun legislation has, however, been somewhat tightened in 2008, when Switzerland complied with European Firearms Directive. Throughout the modern political history of Switzerland, there have been advocates for tighter gun control.
The most recent suggestion for tighter gun control was rejected in a popular referendum in February 2011.
In a referendum held on 19 May 2019, voters supported the stricter EU restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, as recommended by the government. This legislation was notable as the EU threatened to remove Switzerland from the Schengen Zone if it did not pass the recommended restrictions, though. This made the legislation inevitable, as the Swiss economy is reliant on trade with the EU, being a landlocked country.
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