Until January 1, 1999, regulating firearms was the responsibility of the Swiss Cantons, which had enacted their own laws and had agreed upon some basic uniform rules in a Concordat (Agreement of March 27, 1969 on Trade in Firearms and Ammunition). In 1993, Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment which authorized the Federal Parliament to pass a Firearms Control Law aimed at making access to firearms more difficult.
On June 20, 1997, the Swiss Parliament adopted a federal law on arms, arms accessories and ammunition (Arms Act), which entered into force on January 1, 1999. As a general rule, the Arms Act requires a permit for each transaction involving weapons or relevant parts of weapons purchased from an authorized gun dealer's shop. Permits for purchasing weapons are issued by the competent authorities of the Cantons, which have to ensure that the necessary legal requirements are fully met. The selling party has to verify the absence of any legal obstacle on the buyer's side (18 years of age, absence of an apparent risk to the buyer or third persons, no entry in the Register of Convictions for Violent Crimes and Misdemeanors). Subsequent transfers either by sale or by another transaction among private individuals have to be documented through a written contract between those individuals themselves, which they have to keep for at least ten years. In addition, foreign nationals without a permanent residence permit in Switzerland need an authorization to purchase weapons or relevant parts of weapons from private dealers as well. Foreign nationals must obtain their permit from the competent authority of the Canton in which the purchase will take place. In order to obtain a permit, foreign nationals have to present an official certificate issued in their home country to prove that they are entitled to purchase a weapon or a relevant part of a weapon.
In addition to requiring the above-mentioned permit to purchase weapons, the Arms Act also requires a special certificate to bear arms in public. A person who requests such a permit must demonstrate that he needs to bear arms in public in order to protect himself, other persons or goods against specific risks. To obtain a permit to bear arms one also has to pass an examination on the correct handling of weapons as well as a test on legislation on the use of firearms. Permits are normally valid for a specific type of weapon and for the entire territory of Switzerland, but are limited to five years.
Special Regulations for Military Firearms, Sporting and Hunting Guns
Due to the long tradition and the special organization of the Swiss armed forces as a militia army, special rules are applicable for army weapons. Between their regular annual service of two or three weeks per year, Swiss soldiers and officers keep their personal weapons at home. After they have left the army, they may keep those arms in order to continue practicing at rifle or pistol ranges managed by local communities. Special rules also govern hunting or sporting rifles.
Firearms and Crime
The use of firearms in crimes in Switzerland is relatively rare. In 1998, official police statistics reported 66 cases in which guns were used in attempted or successful homicides, 64 cases in which they were used to inflict bodily harm and another 475 cases in which firearms were used in armed robberies.
Export and Import Regulations
Residents of the United States who would like to purchase a firearm in Switzerland and bring it to the U.S. have to obtain an export permit which must be presented to the Swiss customs authorities when the goods leave Switzerland. Most gun dealers can obtain this permit for foreign nationals.
The Swiss Export and Import Regulations have been revised in 2001 and have entered into force on March 1, 2002. Therefore, further information and permit application forms can be obtained:
for the transfer of weapons (parts, ammunition) to Switzerland:
Federal Office of Police, central office for weapons, 3003 Berne, Switzerland
(Bundesamt für Polizei, Zentralstelle Waffen (ZSW), 3003 Bern
Tel. 031 324 22 97 or Tel. 031 322 36 29, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
for the transfer of weapons (parts, ammunition) considered to be war materiel to the United States:
Staatssekretariat für Wirtschaft (seco), Exportkontrollen/Kriegsmaterial, 3003 Bern
Tel. 031 324 50 94, e-mail: email@example.com
for the transfer of hunting or sporting weapons (parts, ammunition) to the United States:
Staatssekreatariat für Wirtschaft (seco), Exportkontrollen/Industrieprodukte, 3003 Bern
Tel. 031 324 84 86, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two hunting or two sporting rifles (or one hunting and one sporting rifle) may be imported without a permit if the bearer satisfactorily shows that they will be used in a sports contest or a hunting event.
Under those circumstances, the following ammunition can be brought along:
50 cartridges (for hunting)
250 cartridges (per handgun)
250 cartridges (per rifled sporting gun)
500 cartridges (per smooth bore sporting gun)