The following is excerpted from the talk.politics.guns FAQ:


Switzerland places a far heavier reliance on decentralized government, and individual responsibility, which, when combined with a greater degree of social control than Americans would likely tolerate, helps keep the crime rate low. Switzerland's current constitution, which was adopted in 1848, reflects the influence of the United States, in that it for the first time recognized individual rights, rather than only the rights of the various cultural, linguistic, and religious groups which form the basis of cantonal (state) distinctions. Crime has increased slightly in recent years, but much of Swiss crime is attributable to the drug trade and to foreigners. Swiss citizens are generally_very_law abiding, and the Swiss have not seen the need for the sorts of harsh justice and broad police powers seen elsewhere. There is no death penalty, and sentences in Switzerland are usually short for all crimes except murder. All prisoners must serve at least two-thirds of their nominal sentences. Judges are popularly elected in some cantons. Violent movies can be banned, and racist and anti- Semitic acts, speech or publications are strictly prohibited. Arrests can only be made with warrant, and suspects must be charged within 24 hours after arrest. Foreigners who have been denied political asylum, however, can be held in administrative detention for up to a year if they are considered a risk to escape deportation. Foreigners can also be stopped by police on the street and asked for their identity papers. Police permits are required for public meetings, but are generally issued unless there is the likelihood of violence. Some cantons have official state-sponsored churches, but taxes to fund them are optional. Though narcotics are illegal, the laws have only recently been enforced with any severity. Swiss banking secrecy laws have led to the Swiss confederation becoming a center for drug money laundering. Zurich's notorious Platzspitz "Needle" Park was closed several years ago for public health reasons, and because international publicity about the park had attracted drug dealers and criminals. Other Swiss cities with similar parks have also sought to close them to drug users, and some drug abusers are instead now being given their drugs under medical supervision, as a public health measure. Violent crime is still rare, despite the widespread availability of weapons.

Switzerland requires mandatory military service for its men, but there is only a small standing army. The Swiss rely upon a militia system for defense of the confederation, and because of this, ownership of all types of military weapons is more widespread even than in the United States. The front line troops of the_Auszug_must keep their fully-automatic military assault rifle and seventy-two rounds of sealed ammunition at home during their term of service from age 21-32. The current issue militia weapons are the SIG Sturmgewehr 90 (.223) and SIG Sturmgewehr 550/551 (.223) assault rifles, and the SIG-Sauer P220 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Even after their service in the _Auszug,_Swiss men still remain part of the militia, either in a home guard (_Landwehr_), or reserve capacity (_Landsturm_) until age 42 (52 for officers). Practice with weapons is a popular recreation, and is encouraged by the government, particularly for the members of the militia. "Ordnance" ammunition is subsidized and available for sale at shooting ranges, and there is a regulatory requirement that ammo sold at ranges must be used there, but this is never really enforced. Sale of all ammunition is registered at the dealer if purchased at a private store, but it is not registered if purchased at a range. All types of ammunition are available for commercial sale, including calibers for military-issue weapons, and hollowpoints. Ammunition sales are registered only at the point of sale by recording the buyer's name in a bound book. Semi-automatic rifles are registered at the dealer and with the police in those cantons having registration at all, otherwise only full-automatics and other military guns must be registered with the government. Unlike the United States, handgun purchases aren't even registered in some cantons. Restrictions on the purchase of non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, which had been in effect in some cantons, have been eased.

Purchase of handguns is licensed on a "must issue" basis at the cantonal (state) level, with "firearms purchase certificates" issued to all adult residents without criminal records or history of mental illness. Handguns and semi-automatic rifles are registered using the same "triple-sheet" form in those cantons which have any registration, with one copy going to the police, one to the dealer, and one to the owner. One canton doesn't require a license for handgun purchases, and purchase of hunting guns and most types of semi-automatic shotguns and rifles usually require no permits. Since actual military guns are issued freely (albeit with a licensing and registration requirement at the cantonal level), controls on other guns can be comparatively mild. There are no restrictions on the carrying of long guns, and only fifteen of the twenty-six cantons require carry permits for handguns (which usually require that "necessity" for carrying the handgun be demonstrated). Laws have been passed which restrict the purchase and carry of weapons by non-Swiss citizens like Turks and people from the embattled area of the former Yugoslavia. There have been calls for more "gun control" from some quarters in Swiss society (including Swiss anti-gun criminologist, Martin Killias) but the tradition of Switzerland's armed citizenry is being kept alive by the activist gun owners organization ProTell (named after Swiss hero and marksman William Tell), which is associated with the Swiss Riflemen's Society, much as the NRA-ILA is associated with NRA in the United States. There are also several other shooting sports organizations.

Swiss information updated with the kind help of Emmanuel Baechler (