It has been recently brought to my attention that a myth regarding my current country of residence, Switzerland, has been on the rise as of late; namely that it is an exemplary paradise of a country where gun ownership is abundant and yet gun crime rates are low.
Now, as flattering as the accolade may be, it’s a bit of a narrow-sighted and incomplete presentation of the reality. Switzerland’s crime rate may be relatively low, but it’s also at an all time high, and has been rising for the past three years. To the point where Geneva, my hometown, has become the most dangerous city in the country, and arguably one of the most dangerous in Europe.
In 2011, the crime rates rose by 6%; more specifically +16% theft and robbery, +4% carjacking, +281% data theft, +20% cyber fraud, and +9% brigandry. More specifically regarding theft in my city: +17% for break-ins, +29% for robbery, +43% pickpocketing, +45% carjacking, +28% hit and run robbery. To this, add the 51% increase in the use of knives or cutting weapons in robbery cases.
Enough statistics though, let’s talk reality. As a resident of the rather respected and prestigious city of Geneva for the past 15 years, I can state with authority that it’s no longer as safe as one would think. In the past 8 years alone, my apartment has been broken into twice, my building has been broken into at least half a dozen times that I’m aware of, I’ve been pickpocketed twice that I know of, I’ve been accosted by violent individuals a handful of times, I’ve been assaulted with an improvised and sharp weapon (from whence the scar on my left eye), and I’ve found myself having to duck for cover at the sound of a gunshot just outside my favorite club. Add to this the high rates of unwarranted murders, hate crimes, vandalism and embezzlement, and even semi-confirmed rumors of amateur bounty hunters and hired guns, and you have a rather rough city indeed. As for sexual delinquency, I personally know four girls who have been sexually assaulted in this city in the past 3 years, and those are the brave few who are willing to say so.
Now let’s zero in on gun control and gun safety. Let me cite a couple of recent cases for you: 2nd of January 2013: a man of 33 murders three women and wounds two men in the hamlet of Daillon in Valais. 15th of December 2012: at least four delinquents hold up a jewelry store in Neuchatel armed with an assault rifle. 14th of April 2012: an man in St. Galen opens fire with his service rifle on his neighbor from across the hall following a verbal dispute. 7th of September 2012: a gas station is held up with a pump action shotgun. 2001: a crazed gunman breaks into the Parliament building in Zug and kills 14. 2006: former ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet and her brother are murdered by her husband. 2009: a soldier murders a teenaged girl at a bus stop using his assault rifle. And I recall an incident in 2008 where a barmaid was killed by a drunk and violent customer who pulled out his service pistol on her (i.e. this was no regular rank and file soldier or Sergeant, but an upper rank NCO or even Officer).
Those who present Switzerland as a shining example of why having more guns around makes for a safer country are missing the point entirely. Having guns more or less available has relatively little to no impact on the crime rates, whether gun related or not. Even if guns weren’t readily available, the black market is easily capable of filling that gap in, both for the criminals and the victims who want to defend themselves. Teaching gun control and safety, even at a school level (as many seem to mistakenly believe is done in Switzerland), can only go so far.
The real solution to gun crime is a more deep seated one: it’s to teach people the value of the lives of their fellow men. That is what the Swiss army is all about. It’s not about running around playing commando with our guns and pretending we’re GI Joes; It’s about bringing the people from the various regions, cultures, and languages together, teaching them that life is tough and that if they’re to survive, they need to rely on each other and learn to trust and support each other. The Swiss army teaches solidarity, pride in our collective identity, and camaraderie first and foremost; and this teaches people to respect and value the lives of their fellow men. After all, for all they know, when the chips are down, that person sitting across the tram or next to them on the park bench may very well stand beside them on the battlefield one day. Still, people here are about as thick as in any other country, and sometimes these deep and meaningful lessons just don’t sink in. There’s sadly little anyone can do about that other than arrest them when they fly off the handle, and provide damage control in the wake of their stupidity.
That’s not to say it’s not worth the effort though, on the contrary! It’s not more guns we need, but rather more people willing to take the initiative to protect their comrades. We don’t need more warriors, but rather more heroes who know the value of life and are willing to defend it, and use guns in a cautious, respectful, and socially responsible manner.
Alon Starkman is a contributor to The Desert Lynx
Photo credit: Jeffrey Fairchild