It has been only a few days since a mentally ill young man walked into an elementary school and killed 20 children and seven teachers. This has ignited one of the strongest debates on gun control in recent memory. One of the recurring memes in the current debate is the notion that Switzerland is a country with a high rate of gun ownership and a low rate of gun death… and therefore, we don’t have to restrict gun sales to reduce gun deaths. This is pure propaganda.
I do not consider America and Switzerland to be parallel, and I do not accept most of the argument that the laws in place in Switzerland would have the same effects here.
First off, Switzerland is a much older country (most date the formation of the Swiss federation to 1291) with a very stable identity and population. During the majority of that time (until 1848), they were a federation of small countries that banded together as a protective alliance. At many times in their history, there has been strife between the various autonomous districts (called cantons). They spent many years under direct foreign control by Napoleon. It is from this history of both fighting against, and protecting, their neighbors that their military and gun traditions arise.
Secondly, they have a weak federal government (while ours is quite strong). For example, the districts (cantons) hold the authority to levy taxes. They have NO FEDERAL TAX. They have very limited federal power and any law (at any level) can be challenged in a direct referendum. They have remained as a neutral power in Europe for over 500 years. While there is a "president," the title holds no special power and is simply rotated among the seven members of their federal council (elected by their legislature from within its own ranks).
Third, they are defended by a citizens militia of about 200,000 troops, 95% of whom are drafted conscripts. Men are required to serve. Women have the option of serving. Their soldiers are trained and equipped and, after three months, SENT HOME. They maintain all of their military gear in their homes. Therefore, calling them an "armed public" is very different than in the US. There is hunting for sport, but no parallel to our NRA, and very little street crime. With their direct democracy system, the influence of political interest groups like the NRA is nearly nil.
Fourth, while they are proud of their openness and the fact that 20% of their population is "foreign" (and therefore non-voting), the wild majority of those foreigners are Italian and German (and thus speak the local languages). Their business policies are notoriously protectionist and exclusive, and their culture is somewhat insular. The number of people who are living in Switzerland who do NOT share a common understanding of centuries-old cultural traditions is very small. Even with their relatively low level of "foreign influence" there has been a growing element of racism and xenophobia in Swiss politics. The USA, on the other hand, has nearly no common traditions, and we substitute nationalism for real unity.
The United States is a young, risk-taking, war-loving country with a strong central government that spends wildly on military all over the world, and whose citizens are often living in fear and mistrust of each other. Switzerland is an old alliance of small countries that has a weak central government, has maintained risk-averse culture and neutrality for centuries and whose citizens are largely NOT in fear of each other, but rather would maintain strength to protect themselves from external influence.
Therefore, asking an American and a Swiss to follow the same laws can be done, but you will have very different effects in terms of crime rates.
I love the Swiss, but I view their form of democracy to be the most delicate, and carefully balanced, in the world. Their culture is a not in the same state of constant remixing as ours is (by design), and their stability is reinforced with very tight immigration and asylum policies that nearly eliminates the influence of "outsiders" while binding their citizens together in probably the most prosperous and best educated "middle class" on Earth.
While we share the same values, our cultures are different on so many levels, that comparisons are not truly useful, especially in this context.
As other bloggers have noted, the Swiss experience of gun ownership and crime is simply not applicable to the United States.