Every time I walk by a gun store with assault rifles and other borderline-illegal weapons hanging in the window, I marvel at the weirdness of the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment is possibly the only thing about America that I will ever find exotic--it makes America one of the very few places in the world where carrying deadly weapons is seen not as the privilege of a free and stable society, but as an inalienable human right. Aside from the minority of Americans who keep guns only for hunting--and face it, if you've ever looked at gun blogs and gun mags, you'll realize that they are very much indeed the minority--it seems that gun-wielding Americans have entrenched themselves in the belief that reserving the right to murder is somehow sacred. It's a tradition we've kept for so long that we don't appreciate how bizarre it is, nor do we understand when people from other cultures react with shock and alarm. This, I think, must be a quality unique to America--the strange and inevitable consequence of geographical isolation and libertarian origins. Surely no other country is naive enough to allow its civilians to arm themselves like soldiers?
Then I think of Switzerland
, and I take back everything I said.
There are few civilians in Switzerland. Every able-bodied male between the ages of 19 and 35 is in the military, be it in active duty or the reserve. Every last one
. This isn't like Taiwan, where all able-bodied men have to do boot camp and sit in pillboxes for a couple of months. This is that, plus coming back once a year, every year, to prove that you are still capable of killing people.
All citizens are required to have a SIG 550 assault rifle in their homes. All of them. Each year each rifle owner is legally required to go to a shooting range and, in much the same way people take driver's exams in the United States, prove that they can blow the head off another human being at 200 yards (by shooting at a paper target). Blocks of 5.6mm Gw Pat 90 ammunition, nearly identical to the 5.56x45mm NATO rounds used in American M16s, are subsidized by the government, and fifty rounds are given to each citizen for free. Additional cartridges can be purchased from shooting ranges at a significant discount. Upon reaching the end of their military service, Swiss citizens have the right to purchase their service rifles and sidearms from the government for a very small fee.
Granted, all of this is very tightly regulated--every step of the way requires significant paperwork--but that still means somewhere between 1.2 million to 3 million military-grade firearms, depending on whose numbers you believe, floating around in civilian(?) households in Switzerland. With ammunition. That's a lot of guns.
It's not uncommon to see dudes walking around restaurants and convenience stores carrying weapons capable of shredding the lungs out of a full-grown adult at two hundred yards. Military-issued weapons cause 300 Swiss deaths a year. Most of them are suicides. Most of them.
Just now, Switzerland is realizing it might have a gun problem--after doing this for longer than America has been around. Just now.
Also, every building must have both a blast shelter and a radiation shelter. And the Swiss Alps are still one huge fucking fortress.
Say what you will about the gun control debate in America, but in New York, if I get shot at a failed holdup at the bodega, they'll take me to the hospital and patch me up. If I'm lucky, I might not even be paralyzed for life. In Zurich...dude, those 5.6mm rounds will tear right through sandbags. There probably wouldn't be enough left of me to clean up with a mop.