Weapons Act: Not enough for successful referendum

Weapons Act: organisational skills do not equal a successful referendum

15.05.2019 | Lukas Golder

Initially, the organisational skills exhibited by gun supporters in the campaign surrounding Swiss firearms legislation seemed impressive. Supported by the SVP, they collected more than enough signatures for a referendum on the Weapons Act within just a few months and were extremely active in the online debate.

The European Union has reinforced its firearms legislation; it demands that Switzerland, as a member of the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin III Regulation, follow suit. Gun clubs are resisting any reforms of Swiss firearms legislation. Their lobbying has borne fruit among their own. Our post-referendum analysis has shown that the more gun clubs per a thousand residents exist in a canton, the less its voters agree with the reform.

But the gun supporters’ arguments barely made a difference beyond their own ranks. Ultimately, the proponents of the new laws convinced a much larger share of the population. For their main campaign, they had focused on Schengen/Dublin and the bilateral relations involved.

The campaign for the Weapons Act has shown that organisational skills are one thing. The ability to win a referendum in the face of an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent is quite another. Or in other words: Organisational skills do not equal a successful referendum. The SVP’s restraint during the campaigning phase goes a long way towards explaining the large amount of ‘yes’ votes. Its intention was to turn the Schengen/Dublin discussion into a debate on the principles of the EU. But the agreement has become too popular for that approach to succeed.

Although the sympathisers of the SVP rejected the new weapons law nearly unanimously, their combined efforts were not sufficient to sway enough conservative voters.

Our post-referendum analysis has shown that, in the debate over firearms legislation, individualistic Switzerland has prevailed over traditional Switzerland and its organised clubs.

Weapons Act: What do the revised laws change?

The heightened Swiss firearms legislation affect semi-automatic assault rifles with a magazine capacity of more than ten rounds and pistols with a capacity of more than 20 rounds. Instead of a regular gun licence, owners will have to apply for an exemption permit in future. But the Federal Council has secured a special arrangement in its negotiations with the EU: soldiers can keep their assault rifles after their military service as before, without an exemption permit.