Switzerland has some of the most liberal gun laws in the world. And yet it has few gun killings. “The country has about 2 million privately owned guns in a nation of 8.3 million people. In 2016, the country had 47 attempted homicides with firearms. The country’s overall murder rate is near zero. The National Rifle Association often points to Switzerland to argue that more rules on gun ownership aren’t necessary.” “We have guns at home, but they are kept for peaceful purposes,” Martin Killias, a professor of criminology at Zurich University, told the BBC in 2013. “There is no point taking the gun out of your home in Switzerland because it is illegal to carry a gun in the street.“
I lived in Switzerland in 1966 and was surprised to learn that, at the time, every Swiss male over 18 had a rifle in his closet. This was part of the universal military tradition on the country. But the rifles were not for private use but to protect the country if it were invaded.
Let’s compare this Swiss tradition to the American Second Amendment of the Constitution. “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.” The general idea is the same. But the U.S. Supreme Court twisted the constitutional language to make the carrying on arms an individual right, not one designed to protect the society.
In Switzerland, the rifles in the individual closets were not to be used for individual purposes. You couldn’t even use it for target practice unless it were part of military training. In the U.S., the owning of a gun is an individual right, and that right has continued even though there are no longer state militias.
I recently had an argument with a conservative Trumpista about the right to have a gun. She advocated for the owning of guns to protect the home as well as to be sure that the government doesn’t take over the society. (She was talking about how the Nazis took over Germany and argued that guns would prevent this from happening). I told her that I thought the Swiss tradition of having a gun in the homemade sense, because it provided the protection that she was seeking but without giving rise to the violence we see in the United States.
As a lawyer, I am always conscious of the fact that every law has a downside as well as an upside. Gun ownership may have positive aspects, but we also know that it has many negative aspects. Congress should pass a law permitting the ownership and housing of one gun per household. That would provide the protection that Trumpistas want. But the gun should have a cap on it so that, if it is used, the police can show that it was. A gun should only be used for legal target practice and hunting. It could also be used to protect the household from illegal entry. In extreme circumstances, the gun could be taken outside to prevent robberies and the like. Other than that, guns should not be used. Once you have a society that permits unguarded use of guns, you have the sort of violence that is rampant in the U.S.
In other words, we can have guns on a limited basis – to provide societal and individual protection, but in a way that will prevent people from using the weapons for illegal or violent purposes. “Open carry” should not be permitted. Taking a gun outside your home should be very limited. Having rules of this nature would permit guns to be used but only in ways that do not encourage violence.