Beyond The Iron Sights


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

Alon Starkman
Alon Starkman
Sgt. Alon Fosman Starkman is a former Sergeant of the Swiss Army Support to Command Division. His past intelligence work focused mainly on the political situation in the Middle East region (Lybia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria), with specific emphasis on the Israeli perspective.
  • Rixa

    Security in Geneva, and in Swiss Romand, has indeed deteriorated in the last 10 years and Ido not believe there is any direct correlation between this fact and the amount of guns in Switzerland. Criminality is not due to guns but to ill fated individuals and I share the opinion that it is not guns that will protect us but more people caring for people .
    I found this article informative and original and I am looking forward to the next topic!

  • Well argued, and balanced article. Informative and clearly researched. Final point well made.

  • I wanted to thank you for this fantastic read!

    ! I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. I have you
    book-marked to check out new stuff you post

    • LynxFreeorDie

      Thank you, and please keep reading. More good stories to come.

  • Alon Starkman

    Thank you for your interest, and whilst you wait for the next one, do help yourself to our archives; plenty more good reading there too.

  • John Escue

    I find this article a bit confusing. Can people from other nations join the Swiss army?

    • Alon Starkman

      Well, it depends on your definition of “other nations”. For example: I was born in Peru, spent my childhood in Israel, and my teen years in Switzerland. I had earned my Swiss nationality and passport by spending a set number of years living there, and passing an exam. I am, for all intents and purposes, Swiss; and therefore had to attend service as part of my duties as a citizen.
      Any person coming from abroad can theoretically apply for a swiss citizenship, and if they get it and are under the age of 25, they will have to serve in the army. However, the swiss army will probably not accept a candidate who has served in a foreign army, but that simply comes down to common sense.

  • I agree very much with what you say, especially about weapons training with emphasis on safety, rights, and responsibilities of weapons owners!
    Apathy is a big problem in all countries!
    More severe penalties are needed for those who commit crimes with ANY weapon!
    Guns are not the problem, CRIMINALS are the problem!!
    Taking away, or restricting, the weapons of law abiding citizens will not solve anything, rather, it will raise the abilities of the criminals, (and governments), to be able to “out gun” citizens and police officers!
    Criminals use gun free zones right now to commit their murders, so, what do you think would happen if everyone but them were unarmed??
    8 ) God bless y’all!!
    Elder @

  • The criminally insane will use any weapon they can get their hands on be it a gun, knife or sword.

  • Bob Robertson

    Unfortunately, those who fear private ownership of firearms don’t understand that disarming the good guys doesn’t help. I’m sorry to hear about the uptick in crime in Geneva. From what I read, it reflects a general uptick in violence across Europe and, as should be obvious, has nothing what so ever to do with private firearms.

    Those who defend the private ownership of firearms are just as guilty of “grasping at straws” as the prohibitionists and hoplophobes, because the attacks on private ownership are relentless and often rely on nothing more than the Big Lie, told over and over again. Switzerland is used because by the time Switzerland comes up everything else has already been tried.