Switzerland is a country with a gun tradition, both militarily and for sport. It has also faced high profile gun crimes in recent years. Just this week, pensioner Peter Kneubühl appeared in court for his 2010 shooting of a police officer after barricading himself in his home. And last week, a man in Daillon in the canton of Valais shot three people dead, and injured two others. That man’s weapons had been seized by police previously because he suffered a reported mental condition. Swiss gun laws and mindsets have evolved over the last two decades but the country still has a reputation for being comfortable with guns. This impression has been heard especially by some in the United States, as that nation faces a debate over guns following the Newtown shooting last month.
While Washington debates what to do about guns, some gun advocates are looking abroad for inspiration, to Switzerland. They say the Swiss have high gun ownership rates, low crime, and lots of freedom.
But some Swiss reject the comparison. After a long-weekend, Daniel Wyss’ gun shop in a village near the Swiss capital Bern, is buzzing with sportsmen and gun enthusiasts eager to re-arm.
Wyss said his customers are hunters, sportsmen, collectors, and folks who want to protect themselves. In that respect Swiss gun enthusiasts wouldn’t seem so different from those in the US.
But Jo Lang, vice president of the Swiss Green Party, said there is one big difference. Lang is a survivor of Switzerland’s worst shooting tragedy in 2001, when a gunman shot 14 people in a state legislature. And he’d like to see the difference remain…
Live debrief with Alex Helmick, WRS afternoon host: “Ten years ago today Switzerland was rocked by tragedy. Lone gunman Friedrich Leibacher disguised himself as a police officer, and marched into the Zug cantonal parliament building. In the second story Parliament meeting hall Leibacher fired dozens of rounds killing 14 people and injuring many others before killing himself.
The incident was the worst shooting in Swiss history, and led to the changes in government security and left perhaps a permanent impression on the Zug community. WRS’s Tony Ganzer was in Zug today. Now, it has been 10 years now since the Zug Massacre, as it is called. Is Zug still in mourning would you say? Could you tell walking through the city that this is 10 years after an attack of this magnitude?
Tony Ganzer: Well, Zug is picturesque, and the cantonal parliament is perched near the lake. Traffic and people carried on as you would expect on any other day, but there were two major external signs that this is still a community remembering. The first, was a collection of things at the parliament building the cantonal flag of Zug sitting at half-staff, lit candles were placed in a circle on the buildings steps. Fresh flowers were placed on a glass memorial outside the building.
The second sign was hard to hear at first. Many communities ring bells at the top of the hour but Zug, today at noon let them all ring out. The tone was soft at first, so I climbed into the old town, up a steep hill toward the Zug Castle.
Some of the most vigorous bell ringing sang from St. Oswald’s Catholic Church. A group of kids asked me what I was doing, and why the bells were ringing for what seemed to be forever. I told them it was in honor of the victims of the shooting 10 years ago. They said they understood.
AH: So even the kids at least knew of the attack 10 years ago. Could you assume then the population at large is at least aware of what’s happening today, I assume so?
TG: Well, for that question I turned to the man ringing St. Oswald’s bells, Markus Jeck.
He says this is very present for the people here. That attack is not completely forgotten. He says he walks to that building, and he looks around and he knows what happened there. And he thinks..that people will never forget.
Jeck rushed back to the church office after the bells subsided. But he thinks it is good they ring.
He says for him the bells..they’re machinery. They are something to alert people to religious services. But also they ring when someone has died, but also like now, to remember, with all the bells ringing to tell people something terrible happened. This is a remembrance of the those who were killed in the attack 10 years ago, he says. We do it as a reminder, in general, of the violence that day. All the bells ring out every year on this day for 15 minutes.
And with that Jeck continued sweeping the church grounds, but still conscious of what the day means to the community..
AH: And, Tony, at the parliament building itself, it was supposed to be open day for the public, a remembrance day for the public. What was the mood like there in the parliament building?
TG: The building as I said is perched by the lake, and near it..is a large bird pen, so bird song fills the area. Inside things are very quiet, though. A large bouquet is in the main meeting hall, a single rose was on the back table. A crucifix on the wall, small stained-glass portraits and the cherubs painted on the ceiling with Swiss flags give a peaceful air.
AH: Were there any people visiting?
TG: Well, a few. Some lawmakers had come in the morning, I was told, and some citizens. Standing near the hall was cantonal parliament president Wreni Vicky. And I spoke with her, and she says the Zug citizens are very close to this attack.
VICKY: The real Zuger Bevölkerung (people of Zug), they remember it very good. I can see it—I bekam (received) letters for the day now, or SMS, and E-mails, and they are very near to it.
TG: Vicky was a cantonal lawmaker in 2001, and was in the room during the attack. She says many things changed after that day.
VICKY: Yes, it changed quite a lot because now we have all the police. We have controls everywhere. It was the same year as Swissair grounding, and 9/11. I think it is not only the Attentat from Zug, who changed security, but it’s different since ’01.
TG: Attentat means “attack” in German. Vicky says it is true the attack pushed Swiss thinking from that of a small, safe nation, into one part of a bigger world.
VICKY: It’s different and I cannot…if you have been in such a room, life changes. For me it’s the life before the Attentat, and the life after the Attentat. And all people should know this: we have a good living, we are rich, we can afford everything. And you should be happier.
TG: But, she says, she is still coping with the effects of that day.
VICKY: Before, I didn’t have fear. And now, I’m sure, if you are in a room or a restaurant somewhere, it can happen, something. And I didn’t know this feeling before.
TG: That was Zug cantonal parliament president Wreni Vicky. But Alex, perhaps the most permanent sign of a changed Switzerland is at the door. The solid wooden door clicks shut with its strong, mechanical lock. And the automatic glass doors don’t open until the wooden one closes. All for security.
AH: Thank you, Tony.
TG: Thank you.