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In Switzerland, gun ownership is high but mass shootings are low. Why?
In the face of seemingly unstoppable gun violence, Americans could stand to gain by looking to the Swiss.
- According to a recent study, the U.S. had the second highest number of gun-related deaths in 2016 after Brazil.
- Like the U.S., Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership. However, it has a considerably lower rate of deaths from gun violence.
- Though pro-gun advocates point to Switzerland as an example of how gun ownership doesn't have to correlate with mass shootings, Switzerland has very different regulations, practices, and policies related to guns than America.
About 251,000 people around the world died from gun violence in 2016, according one study. One-third of that number — more than 80,000 — came from the two countries with the most gun-related deaths: Brazil, in 1st place, and the United States, in 2nd place.
It's clear there's an issue here, in the Americas, but gun rights are a contentious topic in the United States. Pro-gun proponents argue that gun ownership is a necessary prerequisite to prevent tyranny, while anti-gun proponents argue that the cost of widespread gun ownership is too high a cost, in terms of potential violence, to pay for defending against a hypothetical threat. They point to European countries where the rate of gun ownership is significantly lower and, commensurately, the rate of gun deaths is significantly lower.
However, Switzerland appears to be an exception. The country's gun ownership rate is high. Although its rate of deaths from gun violence is still high for Europe, compared to the United States, Switzerland seems to have a much more effective practices when it comes to mass shooting, which last occurred in the land-locked nation in 2001.
What makes Switzerland different
Swiss soldiers learn to maintain a helicopter. Though historically neutral, Switzerland has mandatory military conscription for all able-bodied adult men. Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images
Though Swiss gun ownership remains fairly high for Europe — there are about 27.5 guns for every 100 people in Switzerland — compared to the United States, it's relatively low — for every 100 Americans, there are about 120.5 guns. Whereas the U.S. has nearly 12 deaths per 100,000, Switzerland has around 7. Considering the discrepancy between U.S. and Swiss gun ownership, that lesser number may be directly attributable to the number of guns in circulation.
Where Switzerland does shine, however, is in its low number of mass shootings. It hasn't had one since 2001, when a man raided the local government body in Zug, killing 14 people before himself. This said, there are a few factors that may play into their lower rates of mass shootings.
First, Switzerland has mandatory military service for able-bodied adult men, and women may volunteer for military service as well. Mandatory conscription is actually extremely popular in Switzerland, with 73 percent of Swiss citizens voting against a referendum to abolish the practice. After their military service, the Swiss are kept in reserve until age 30–34, if they were an officer — during which time they must keep their service weapon. As a result, many Swiss people own firearms and are highly trained in their use by default. In contrast, if a U.S. citizen lives in a particularly permissive state, they can buy a gun without any kind of training whatsoever.
Furthermore, Swiss civilians must demonstrate that they are physically, intellectually, and mentally capable prior to conscription in the army (source in French). While this is a requirement for service in the U.S. military, it is not required for gun ownership in many states in America. Since many Swiss citizens obtain their weapons through the military, this acts as a major avenue by which gun owners' capability can be verified.
Technically, American federal law does prohibit the severely mentally ill from purchasing firearms, but the implementation of this ban is poor. The federal background check system is severely understaffed and underfunded, and records on prospective gun buyers' mental conditions are typically incomplete or absent even if a court had previously found them to be unwell. Dylann Roof, who fired upon a church in Charleston, South Carolina, should have failed his background check, but was able to buy his .45 caliber Glock anyways. In contrast, some Swiss police may ask for a certificate from a psychiatrist prior to approving a gun license, which is required before buying most kinds of guns in Switzerland.
Pro-gun advocates in the U.S. often point to Switzerland to prove that high gun ownership doesn't necessarily mean high gun deaths. However, Switzerland has a wildly different regulatory environment and — perhaps most importantly — culture than the US. Mandatory military service would be unlikely to be popular in the U.S., not least because where Switzerland has been historically neutral, the U.S. has historically been involved in a number of wars in recent history. But there might be something to be said about changing our attitudes toward guns, at the very least so that there can be productive discussions on what gun policy should be.
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.