On May 19, Swiss citizens will go to the polls to vote in a referendum that will determine whether the peaceful mountain nation will acquiesce to the mandates of the European Firearms Directive. The Swiss have a proud history of voting to protect their firearms heritage. In 2011, the Swiss electorate rejected a ballot measure that would have ended the tradition of militia members keeping their firearms at home and burdened law-abiding gun owners with federal gun registration and new acquisition requirements.
Less than a week after the November 13, 2015, terrorist attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris, the European Union expedited its pre-existing plans to amend the European Firearms Directive. The European Firearms Directive sets the minimum threshold of gun regulation that EU member states must enact.
Finalized in May 2017, the new European Firearms Directive included a significant expansion of firearms registration and licensing requirements. Moreover, the European Firearms Directive prohibited most gun owners from accessing the following categories of commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms,
Any of the following centre-fire semi-automatic firearms:
(a) short firearms which allow the firing of more than 21 rounds without reloading, if:
(i) a loading device with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds is part of that firearm; or
(ii) a detachable loading device with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds is inserted into it;
(b) long firearms which allow the firing of more than 11 rounds without reloading, if:
(i) a loading device with a capacity exceeding 10 rounds is part of that firearm; or
(ii) a detachable loading device with a capacity exceeding 10 rounds is inserted into it.
EU member states were given 15 months to conform their national laws to most portions of the European Firearms Directive and 30 months to conform to the registration provisions.
Neutral Switzerland is not a member of the EU. However, the country is a member of the Schengen Area – a coalition of European countries that have abolished the border controls between their nations. As a member of the Schengen Area, the Swiss are obligated to comply with the EU’s firearms mandates. During the convoluted EU legislative process, the Swiss were able to secure a small concession from the EU to permit preservation of its longstanding tradition of allowing members of the militia to keep their service rifles after their term of service.
In December 2017, Swiss gun rights group ProTell made clear that the group would oppose the attempt to align Swiss gun laws to the European Firearms Directive by referendum if necessary. On September 28, 2018 both houses of the Swiss Federal Assembly (parliament) voted to revise the country’s firearms laws to comport with the EU’s mandate.
After the Federal Assembly capitulated to Brussels’s demands, Swiss gun rights activists made good on their promise. On January 17, the pro-gun referendum committee submitted the necessary signatures to put the changes to Swiss gun law to a popular vote on May 19. Voters will be asked if they “Ja” support the Federal Assembly’s surrender to the EU, or “Nein” do not want the country to adopt the EU gun control requirements.
The referendum committee has developed the “Nein” campaign to promote the pro-gun rights position on the ballot. The “Nein” campaign has attracted a wide variety of support, including backing from many of the various archery and shooting sports clubs and organizations, ProTell, the largest political party in the National Council the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and militia organizations. The campaign materials highlight Swiss shooters from all walks of life and point out that the attempt to conform Swiss firearms law to the European Firearms Directive is wrong, hostile to freedom, useless, dangerous, and anti-Swiss.
The referendum campaign shows that there are many in Switzerland that possess a deep understanding of the vital role an armed populace plays in a system of ordered liberty. The referendum committee website published a piece from SVP National Councilor Werner Salzmann which explained,
There are three mechanisms of protection that have proven effective throughout history to prevent state arbitrariness and human rights abuses: the separation of powers, the right to freedom of expression and the right to private firearms ownership.
All three of these protections have always been exceptionally well developed in Switzerland. The power-limiting effect of the separation of powers is reinforced in Switzerland by the referendum and initiative right. So-called "hate speech" censorship, as in Germany, does not exist with us. And every law-abiding, mentally unremarkable citizen in Switzerland could always buy as many commercial weapons and ammunition as she wanted. [Translated from the original German using Google Translate]
The referendum committee’s fact sheets point out several of the specific problems with the European Firearms Directive. The EU laws would turn the right to own commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms into a privilege. The measure would curtail possession of the civilian versions of the military’s SIG SG 510 and SIG SG 550, which account for 80 percent of the rifles used in sports shooting. Casual shooters could face disarmament, as they would not be able to provide the proof of the need for a semi-automatic firearm required by EU law.
The campaign has also made clear that the 2017 additions to the European Firearms Directive are only the beginning of the EU’s gun control efforts. Article 17 of the Directive requires that every five years the European Commission must “submit to the European Parliament and to the Council a report on the application of [the European Firearms] Directive, including a fitness check of its provisions, accompanied, if appropriate, by legislative proposals…”
With the natural rights of the Swiss in the balance May 19, NRA will continue to monitor Switzerland’s European Firearms Directive Referendum and keep American gun owners apprised of the latest developments.