ZUG, Switzerland -- Evening rush hour at a Swiss train station: men in suits, a
woman carrying a cello, kids lugging snowboards. Markus Marschall, a university
engineering student, walked through the bustle wearing an orange T-shirt, leather jacket and aviator sunglasses -- and a Sturmgewehr 90 automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
"It's perfectly normal," said Marschall, 25, who carried the olive-green rifle, issued to him by the Swiss military, on a canvas strap as casually as he might carry a tennis racket. Nobody gave him a second glance.
Switzerland, a country of 7.5 million people with an estimated 2 million or more guns in circulation, sits as a heavily armed exception in the heart of Europe, where most countries have strict gun-control laws. Virtually all able-bodied Swiss men are required to serve in the military, which issues them assault rifles or pistols, or both,
which they store at home and keep when they leave the service.
At a time when the Virginia Tech killings are stirring debate about U.S. gun laws,
Switzerland is also weighing new curbs on a robust culture of gun ownership that
dates back centuries. Parliament is considering a measure to ban the keeping of
ammunition at home. Opposition politicians, backed by a leading women's magazine, are campaigning to get guns and ammunition out of Swiss homes to be stored in gun clubs and military armories.
"If you have a gun in the home, the risk of death is higher than if you don't have a gun at home -- very simple," said Manuela Weichelt-Picard, an elected official and survivor of this country's worst gun slaughter, in which a man with a rifle killed 14 people and himself at a local government meeting in this lakeside city south of Zurich in September 2001. Swiss anti-gun activists saw the Virginia Tech shootings
demonstrate all over again the danger of easy access to firearms.
Gun advocates argue that stricter controls would violate age-old Swiss tradition, would not deter crime and would not have prevented the Zug massacre. "No gun law will ever stop the crazy man from doing outrageous things," said Ferdinand Hediger of Pro Tell, a gun owners' association.
Anti-gun activists said they were pessimistic about winning major gun-law changes in a country where guns are a commonly accepted part of life. Each spring, more than 200,000 people take part in a national target-shooting competition staged in nearly every village in the country. Hediger of Pro Tell -- named for William Tell, the legendary Swiss character who with bow and arrow shot an apple from his son's head -- said Swiss shooters fire 70 million rounds of ammunition each year, nearly 10 bullets for every citizen.
But a poll published Sunday in a national newspaper, SonntagsBlick, found that 65 percent of 1,200 Swiss surveyed were opposed to storing military guns at home, with 76 percent saying it was not "necessary for the army's mission." Although 54 percent said Switzerland's high rate of gun ownership made the country "less safe," 60 percent said that changes in laws would not stop gun violence in Swiss homes.
No one knows exactly how many guns are in Switzerland -- estimates reach 3 million or more -- in part because military guns have been passed down through generations. The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates that the country has 46 guns per 100 people, which puts it behind only the United States, with 90 guns per 100 people; Yemen, with 61; and Finland, with 56 -- and just ahead of Iraq with
Hediger, of Pro Tell, estimated that at least half of Swiss homes have a gun tucked away somewhere. Marschall, a full-time student and Swiss Army militiaman, said he keeps his rifle in a bedroom closet with "T-shirts and sports equipment" and a sealed canister of 50 military-issued bullets. He was on his way to the annual shooting practice required of all 200,000 soldiers and reservists.
A gun for every man is the basis of a generations-old defense doctrine in the tiny, traditionally neutral country. Swiss officials call it the "porcupine" approach: Switzerland may be small, but weapons in basements and attics in every Alpine village act as millions of quills to deter invaders.
"An army should be ready as soon as possible, so soldiers should have weapons and ammunition at home -- this is our tradition," said Ulrich Schluer, a national legislator who serves on a commission on security. Many Swiss feel the policy served them well during World War II, when their country largely escaped the conflagration that consumed most of Europe.
According to Swiss police, there were 204 homicides in Switzerland in 2005, including 48 that involved guns. That is about the same number of gun-related killings as took place last year in England and Wales, which have strict gun control and a population seven times the size of Switzerland's.
According to a 25-nation survey by the International Action Network on Small Arms, a British-based organization against gun violence, Switzerland's total number of gun deaths, including accidents, in 2005 was 6.2 per 100,000 citizens, which was second only to the U.S. rate of 9.42 per 100,000. Switzerland's rate of gun deaths was more than double that of 18 of the countries surveyed, including neighbors Germany and Italy.
Schluer and other gun advocates attributed much of the violence to criminals who obtain weapons illegally. But gun-control proponents here contend that guns kept at home are used increasingly in suicides; according to government figures, there were 271 suicides by firearm in Switzerland in 2004 out of a total of 1,283.
Annabelle, a Swiss women's magazine, reported that there were at least eight cases in the country last year of men shooting their wives or children, then themselves. These included the murder of international ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet by her husband, who then shot himself. To highlight the problem, the magazine printed posters showing a happy Swiss family: mom with a baby, a young boy in dress clothes and a beaming dad wearing a tie and holding his assault rifle uncomfortably close to his wife's face.
"We don't know any woman who wants a weapon in the house," said Lisa Feldmann, the magazine's editor. "Women and the younger generation think this is crazy."
Although there was a national debate, Switzerland did not make any major changes to its gun laws after the massacre in Zug, a picturesque town of about 24,000 on the shores of a placid lake that bears the same name.
"I don't know how many people have to die before things change," said Weichelt-Picard, who was in the room during the Zug killings and helped tend to the dead and wounded, all of whom she knew. "There are too many people in our world who can't handle a gun in moments where they are angry or upset."
Weichelt-Picard said her first reaction to the news about Virginia Tech was, "Oh no, not again." She said she was in trauma therapy for months after the shooting here.
Simone Hinnen, 35, one of 14 people wounded in the shootings, still wears an elastic bandage over the scarring on her right lower leg and, after a half-dozen operations, still has trouble walking. Hinnen said that stricter gun laws would not have stopped the Zug shooter, who used privately purchased guns, but that guns stored at home often lead to family violence.
"I understand people who say this is our history," she said. "But for the younger generation, I think it's different. It should be forbidden to have a gun at home."
On Friday afternoon, Marcel Brunschwiler, 34, a business consultant, ate lunch in a sunny plaza next to the building where the Zug shootings happened. He said that while Switzerland and the United States are world leaders in gun ownership, gun-related killings are in his view far more common in the United States. He blamed that partly on violent American television shows such as "24," which he watches
"Kids in America watch these shows and think, 'I just have to kill this guy and the problem's solved,' " Brunschwiler said. "We have a completely different way of thinking."
Brunschwiler said he owns a 9mm pistol, which he keeps in a drawer with his CDs.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
We took a different route home and didn't even see a sign marking the border.
Only four out of seven tunnels that were checked in Switzerland are deemed safe, and one of them is below European Union standards. That’s according to tests carried out by the Swiss Motoring Organisation, TCS. One of the most worrying finds was that the five kilometre long Grand Saint Bernard Tunnel, between Switzerland and Italy, has no emergency exits. The Montchenin tunnel, in the canton of Valais, was found to have no traffic-monitoring equipment. Its ventilation was also a problem. However, the Mosi tunnel, in the canton of Schwytz, was the worst offender, not meeting EU standards, again with no emergency exits and unsatisfactory ventilation. Tunnel safety came under close scrutiny after a fire in the Gotthard tunnel, in 2001, in which eleven people died. More than 100 million francs was subsequently spent on improving safety.
Going to IKEA on an evening is so much better than during the day, but it was still fairly busy. I put one of the chairs together as a test and it seems to hold my weight. I'll put the rest together this evening after we get felt pads to go on the feet. I've also started putting the table together. So far, so good - it hasn't been screwed to the floor yet.
We had the relocation company's handyman come and install our lights on Friday. Have I mentioned that Swiss apartments only come with lights in the bathroom and kitchen? Renters are expected to install ceiling lights if the want, but must remove them and fill\paint any holes that were drilled into the ceiling. We now have lights in all rooms. I can't figure out what one switch is connected to, but I guess that is an improvement over the 3 switches in our Seattle house that I couldn't figure out.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The process to get a Swiss license is fairly easy if you have a US license. I only had to do the following:
- Fill out application form
- Show my current US license
- Get a vision test
- Get my commune (town hall) to verify that I actually live in Morges
- Show my residence permit
I did have two small issues. At first the clerk couldn't find the date of issue on my license. No date of issue = no Swiss license. I guess some people have had to get letters from their state indicating when their license was issued. The 2nd issue was that my license didn't indicate what I was allowed to drive. I tried to exlplain that the lack of any special indorsements meant I could drive a regular car, but she needed to go check a book. It turns out I am certified to drive cars and cars pulling a trailer. I think I can also drive a small U-haul like truck, but I'm not sure.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
We stopped at the Payot bookstore (www.payot.ch) that claims to have the largest English language selection in French speaking Switzerland, but I was not impressed. I picked up a book on Medival Europe in an effort to learn some of the stuff I should have learned in 10th grade world history.
We walked along the lake for a while and saw the fountain(www.ville-ge.ch/en/decouvrir/en-bref/jet.htm). We got three little pizzas for lunch. Much to our surprise, two of them had anchovies on them. It wasn't the best meal we've had here.
After lunch we walked around a bit looking for the cathedral, but never actually found it. Rowan rode on the carousel a few times and then we headed back to the train station.
The guy who cut my hair spoke French, Spanish, Portugese and a little English. We had to use some hand signals, but I'd say it went fairly well. A simple haircut costs 32 francs.
UPDATE: A photo has been placed on our website (www.famillemccann.net)
Saturday, April 14, 2007
We are a little worried about this summer. If it is this warm in April, it might be really warm in a few months. I've seen more activity on the balconies tonight than I've seen for the last few weeks.
Not much else to report, but new video and pictures are available on the web site.
Friday, April 13, 2007
The train station in Lausanne is about halfway up the hill. The main objective was to visit the cathederal, so we got to walk up a very steep hill. We wondered around the cathederal for a while before Grammy noticed that we could go up the bell tower. I didn't count, but there were a lot of steps. It did have a good view, but I'm not sure if the view per step ratio was high enough to warrant another trip up.
After visiting the bell for a while we decided to go to a nearby park. It turns out the park is on a hill that allows you to look over the top of the bell tower. It was a nice time, but there has got to be a better way to view Lausanne than to go up\down\up\down...etc.
We didn't even walk down to the Olympic museum. Grammy decided I could just describe the outdoor exhibits so we wouldn't have to walk down and up yet again.
Monday, April 9, 2007
The highlights of the castle were:
*artifacts from the stone, bronze, and iron age
*French and Swiss furniture from the 16th and 17th century
*arms and armour from from the last few hundred years
*trap doors and a prison
*Flemish tapestry fromt he 17th century
*old car museum
The old car museum (early 1900s) was a bit of a weird fit, but was really interesting.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Rowan and Niamh had their first Swiss Easter experience today. It was actually very similar to US Easter experiences – the only difference was the chocolate was produced locally.
Rowan enjoyed looking for the eggs and Niamh enjoyed trying to put whole eggs into her mouth. She also enjoyed dropping them and listening to them crack. Pictures of the egg fun should be posted soon. We spent Saturday night trying to find an English language church service, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. There were multiple options, but we were trying to find one that didn’t conflict with nap times (8-10AM and 12:30 -3:00PM). We ended up finding one in St Sulpice at 10:30. I took Rowan down to the crèche (nursery) and ended up staying down there the entire time. It was a bit crazy. I’ve never been around so many kids under the age of three. It was the first time I’ve been in a church nursery in a nuclear shelter. It seemed a bit odd. I met a few of the other parents, so we might have found some kids for Rowan to play with.
We made fondue this evening. We were going to use our new fondue set, but ran into a few problems. First, we didn’t have a way to light the little burner. I ended up walking to the train station and buying a lighter. I got home and realized that there wasn’t any fuel in the tank. The fondue was made on the stove.
Not much else to report here. I think we’re off to another castle in the morning.
Although small in size, Switzerland ranks among the world’s most prosperous nations. It has the 4th largest per capita GDP, 17th largest overall GDP, a low unemployment rate, and an excellent infrastructure. In addition, Switzerland is among the top 20 nations worldwide in the export of goods and among the top 12 for the export of services. Moreover, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) recently stated that the Swiss economy is continuing to grow at a robust rate. The 2006 growth rate was the highest it has been in 6 years.
Switzerland’s solid economic standing is due largely to its strong emphasis on international trade. Switzerland is party to numerous bilateral free trade agreements and benefits from membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Switzerland’s liberal economic policies and highly skilled workforce also contribute to its thriving economy.
Switzerland’s largest industries are the service sector (banking, insurance, tourism), pharmaceuticals, and machinery. It is home to some of the world’s best-known corporations from a variety of industries including Nestle, Novartis, UBS, and many others.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
*A deposit (1 or 2 Francs) is required to use shopping carts.
*Coins are an important part of the currency system. I believe the following coins are available: .05, .10, .20, .50, 1, 2 and 5 CHF. The smallest bill I have seen is 10 CHF
*You must provide your own bag or purchase a bag at the grocery store
*Stores provide wrapping paper and supplies for free.
*Most items in the store are store branded
*No fire alarms in buildings
*No apartment numbers on the apartment doors
*Cannot mail letters from the apartment. There are mailboxes in various locations or we can go to the post office.
*Cannot recycle metal or plastic in the apartment complex. There are recycle bins around town that must be used.
*The Lego and Playmobil selections are much better here.
*Roundabouts are not the root of all evil. In fact, they might even be better than stoplights.
*Philips seems to be much more popular here. Our TV, radio, and phone are all manufactured by Philips.
*Our apartment building's nuclear shelter seems like it would be very crowded if everyone was in there.
There is a little villeage near the top of the hill with a short cobblestone street leading to the chateau. The street was farily crowded(it must be packed in the summer), but there weren't too many people inside the chateau. The chateau had been used up until about 100 years ago, so it felt like more like a fancy residence than a fortress. There were also a number of rooms devoted to contemorary art work, which isn't what I expected.
Pictures are posted.
Friday, April 6, 2007
No time to get to the polls on voting day? In Switzerland, the cantons (states) of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zurich are working to solve this problem by safely and successfully conducting limited voting over the Internet. While Swiss e-voting initiatives are still in a testing period, these innovative pilot programs can work especially well in Switzerland’s system of direct democracy where citizens have many chances each year to vote. Last month, the Swiss Parliament approved a proposal that encourages additional cantons to conduct e-voting for national popular votes.
To mark this democratic milestone, on April 23 the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington will hold a panel discussion where Swiss and American experts on e-voting share best practices. The event, which is part of ThinkSwiss, the U.S.-wide program on education, research, and innovation, is open to the public. To register, please RSVP to 202-745-7979 or firstname.lastname@example.org by April 19.
The kids both did fairly well, so we were able to spend about 2 hours wandering around. Pictures will be posted soon. I think we're off to find another castle today, but it is a national holiday and they might all be closed.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
I've learned that we are supposed to have both our passports and our residence permits with us at all times. That seems like a major hassle and an invitation to loose them. I'll have to investigate to see what my co-workers do.
I used the wrong screws on the TV stand and accidently screwed it to the floor. Have I mentioned that we are the first tenants in our apartment and that we had to put down a $7500 deposit (Swiss laws allow for a damage deposit of up to 3 month rent)? I think I'll be asking my parents to bring some sort of wood filler over when they come this summer.
We'll go back and get a dinning room table and chairs next week.