Friction between Switzerland and the European Union over the bloc’s plans to tighten gun control following a rise in militant attacks could turn into another serious snag in ties already tested by Swiss efforts to curb immigration. The proposed directive, which applies to non-EU member Switzerland only because it is part of Europe’s Schengen open border system, has raised hackles among the Swiss, who resent intervention from Brussels.
Christoph Blocher, a leading voice of the Swiss right and a eurosceptic, says Switzerland should consider abandoning Europe’s Schengen system of passport-free travel if the Swiss people rejected the proposed measures in a referendum. Drafted after militants killed scores in attacks in Paris last year, the EU plans on gun control aimed to curb online weapons sales and impose more restrictions on assault weapons.
But the initial proposal provoked an outcry in Switzerland because it meant a ban on the long Swiss tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles.
Military service is mandatory in Switzerland and arms ownership is a proud tradition that dates back half a millennium or more; the bowman William Tell, a national hero, is a good example. Even National Socialist Germany didn’t dare attack Switzerland and throughout European history, wise conquerors have steered clear of the Swiss hedgehog.
Two months ago, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga returned from meetings in Brussels saying she had successfully negotiated against such a ban. But the fine print was more complicated: EU members demanded concessions including psychological tests and club membership.
Swiss gun rights proponents are now complaining this could disarm thousands of law-abiding citizens and that it would encroach on Switzerland’s heritage and national identity that includes a well-armed citizenry. “When conflicts arise, Switzerland must put its sovereignty first,” said Blocher, a businessman and vice president of the SVP, which is the country’s biggest party. “In an emergency, Switzerland should be ready to exit Schengen.”
Exit Schengen? What a good idea.