By Jim Holmes
Live Oak —
When I write this weekly column, I am usually trying to give you a little something to smile about.
Other times, I try to relate a little piece of obscure history that I think will be of interest.
This week, something a little different; a look at gun violence in the US when compared to another free and democratic nation.
The current US population is estimated at about 313-million. Of that number, between 22 percent and 25 percent (depending on your source) own firearms of some type. And since there are about 310-million guns in America, those who own firearms often possess more than one. That’s not surprising. Many are collectors, while serious shooters need different guns for different situations. (Target practice with a .22 is great fun, but it would be inhumane to hunt deer with one.)
Now, let’s turn to the nation of Switzerland. Granted, it is a tiny country when compared to ours and not as diverse, but like Americans the Swiss have had a lengthy love affair with firearms. Gun ownership is fairly common, with up to three-million weapons in private homes. One of the reasons the Swiss have so many weapons in circulation is because the nation doesn’t have a standing army. Instead, it depends on a “citizen militia.” Currently that force consists of about 135,000 men, who are either undergoing periodic military training or who are part of the Swiss ready reserve. And get this; those soldiers are each given a fully-automatic weapon which they are REQUIRED to keep in their home and ready for use at a moment’s notice. Mind you, these are not primitive muskets, but modern, state-of-the-art weapons capable of becoming full-blown machine guns with just the flick of a selector switch. This same “store it at home” regulation also applies to hand guns which are issued to those who would normally carry them, such as officers and MPs.
Until September 2007, members of the Swiss militia were also issued - and ordered to store at home - ammunition for their weapons. While that is no longer the case, bullets can be easily purchased throughout the country.
One more thing; after a Swiss soldier serves his military commitment (enlisted men are eligible for call-up until their mid-30s, while officers may have to serve until age 50), he is allowed to buy his rifle. The only stipulation is it must be converted to semi-automatic status, so only a single round can be fired with each trigger pull. In other words, the rifle becomes virtually identical to the military assault rifles, which some in the US want to see banned. The bottom line is that Swiss gun ownership is 29 percent, or HIGHER, than that in the US.
Here, however, is where the comparison between our two nations goes in dramatically different directions.
The annual homicide rate per 100,000 residents in Switzerland is less than three-quarters of a percent (0.70 percent). And the number of murders involving a firearm drops to a half–percentage point.
Here in the United States, it is a much more gruesome tale. The annual murder rate is a whopping 5.5 percent per 100,000...of which 3.7 percent involves the use of a gun.
What’s the point of all these statistics? Well, it seems to me that before we start legislating in Washington, we’d be wise to first identify the root causes of our homicide problem. Then we can enact laws that really work, rather than simply generate headlines.
And a good starting point would be trying to figure out why we, as a nation, seem to be so quick to commit murder when well-armed Swiss citizens are not.
Jim lives in Live Oak.