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I came across a facebook post by an Australian political party that states

  • 1 in 2 citizens in Switzerland have guns
  • Lowest crime rate in the world

Are the above two statements true?

Swiss citizens and guns

(source)

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    I've nuked a pointless flame war. Two points: first, comments are not for pseudo answers, we will nuke them and suspend repeat offenders accounts for excessive discussion in comments; second, keep US gun politics out of this question, it has nothing to do with that country. – Sklivvz Jan 6 '17 at 11:28
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    Is the OP trying to get just the factual numbers, or trying to get at whether something can be said about the relationship of gun control to crime? If it's the latter, I have a lengthy answer about how such a post is misleading (and most estimates put the ownership level as lower). – PoloHoleSet Jan 6 '17 at 14:35
  • @PoloHoleSet The post says nothing about gun control at all. – reirab Jan 6 '17 at 15:41
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    I agree with @PoloHoleSet, either this should be 2 separate questions, or it should be edited to ask if there's meaningful correlation between the 2 points. – user23048 Jan 6 '17 at 20:13
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    @PoloHoleSet the main motivation for this question was to know if those numbers are factual, and from what i can tell not quite, probably a bit exaggurated and enough guns for one in 2 people does not mean that one in 2 people have guns. That aside there are two possible interpretations to this statement 1 more guns = less crime, 2 guns dont cause crime. From the effort to find and the information that would be needed to answer that question its really a seperate question, if somebody does want that answered its easy enough to find claims (there are many) and repost as a seperate question. – user1605665 Jan 6 '17 at 23:06
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The two facts stated in the claim can be considered mostly true. The conclusion drawn, however, is not.

Gun Ownership

Ownership rates in Switzerland are estimated between 25 and 60%. There is no official statistic and registering isn't a nationwide policy, but the responsibility of the individual cantons, which have different laws. In 2014 there were 1.25 million registered guns (800000 private guns, 455000 federally registered guns held by private citizens), which would amount to roughly 15% gun ownership, but the number of unregistered is higher (especially in the form of hunting weapons, which often do not need to be registered), which leads to those wildly different estimates. In that sense, 50% gun ownership is a high estimate, but reasonable.

Sources:

Wikipedia gun laws

Wikipedia ownership rates

Factmyth

Lowest crime rate

This point is a little exaggerated. Switzerland hasn't the lowest crime rates, but it rates very well. In the most recent statistic, Switzerland is at 0.5 murders per 100000 population, which puts it at the 12th lowest homicide rate in the world. Property crime also seems fairly low, though I can't find too many statistics in that regard; Switzerland is ranked 11th out of 118 countries by Numbeo in total crime rate sorted by lowest crime rate.

Sources: Homicide rates

Conclusion

While the two statements are factually reasonable, the ownership assumption is in line with high estimates, the crime rate is a bit exaggerated, the claims intended conclusion of high gun ownership equals low crime is not.

Gun ownership does not correlate to crime rate. Apart from the fact of the vastly different gun culture, e.g. in Switzerland it's seen as a tool to hunt or a hobby(see Factmyth source in paragraph 1 and Statements of a swiss citizen; in the US guns are mainly there to "protect" people (see many statements of pro-gun advocates in the US); the very statistics(see homicide rates link) I linked also have 2 counter examples. In the USA gun ownership is even higher at more than one gun per resident, yet homicide rate is 8 times as high as in Switzerland. While on the other end of the spectrum stands Japan with a gun ownership of a mere 6 guns per 1000 residents and a homicide rate of 0.3 per 100000. Both countries have significantly more population than Switzerland.

Crime correlates much more to the economy. A stable, rich country like Switzerland is more safe, because people have no reason to go out shooting. Looking at the HDI, GDP per capita nominal and GDP per capita PPP, you'll notice the vast majority of the countries with high homicide rates are ranked very low in these economic statistics, many in the triple digits. You can draw a much more sensible correlation here than you can with gun ownership.

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    The first half of the answer is great, and while I agree with the conclusion, it is speculative opinion and unrelated to the OP's question. – LCIII Jan 4 '17 at 13:32
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    @Dulkan: Do you think the answer would be improved by a brief discussion on compulsory service for men (and that conscripts may choose to keep their weapon after their service) inflates both the gun ownership rate, and the level of training that gun owners tend to have? – Oddthinking Jan 4 '17 at 13:43
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    I wonder how many of those guns are military weapons? They can be kept at home but the ammunition is kept at the local armoury. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 4 '17 at 13:56
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    Frankly, this answer would be improved be deleting everything after the statement that the claims are accurate and perhaps replacing it with a simple statement noting that the anecdotal evidence of Switzerland doesn't imply a worldwide correlation. The question does not ask whether gun ownership rates have an effect on crime rates, nor whether they correlate. A question that did ask that would need much more evidence to support an answer one way or the other than the couple of anecdotes given here without context. – reirab Jan 4 '17 at 17:51
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    Also, the assertion that "in the US guns are mainly there to 'protect' people" is rather dubious (and also irrelevant to answering this question.) It might be true in some areas, but certainly not in all parts of the U.S. Just as in Switzerland, hunting and sport shooting are incredibly common in many parts of the U.S. At any rate, determining which, if either, is the primary reason for gun ownership in the U.S. belongs in a separate question. – reirab Jan 4 '17 at 17:58
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There are two factual claims here. Let's start with the "lowest crime rate in the world".

Statistically, how exactly is that claim measured? For example, do you look at everything that is illegal in one country in the world - including chewing gum in Singapore? How do you account for differences in the laws on prostitution and marijuana? How about money laundering through the Swiss banking system? How about cybercrime, or any crime that crosses borders?

Since we are talking about a deadly weapon, let's look at the homicide rate (murder and manslaughter). The claim is definitely false. Singapore's homicide is roughly half to a third that of Switzerland, despite Singapore being a single mega-city, which in most parts of the world translates to higher, not lower, crime rates.

Iceland's number is half of Switzerland's. Sweden's is approximately the same. Liechtenstein and Monaco take the cake - zero murders and manslaughters! Taken in the most favorable light, one could argue that in a small country such as Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein, such small numbers simply have no statistical significance. But there is certainly no factual basis for an absolute statement of "lowest crime rate in the world".

Source: German Wikipedia page for "Killing rate by country"

The second claim is even trickier. "One in two citizens have guns?" Almost certainly false, because only about half the population would even be eligible to own a gun (you have to be an adult, can't have a criminal record, mental illness and many non-citizens are barred from gun ownership).

But what's even more important is what "to have a gun" actually means. It means that you are allowed to buy and own some guns. Hunting rifles, air guns, paintball guns etc. need to be registered. Most other guns need a "Waffenerwerbschein" (gun license) before you are allowed to obtain one (which includes not just buying, but also borrowing, inheriting, receiving as a gift etc.). Many guns that are common in the USA are plain illegal in Switzerland.

But you cannot carry it outside your home. Pretty much the only thing you are allowed to do with your gun is to leave it securely stored, and take it with you on a direct route to specific shooting events (competitions, hunts etc.), unloaded and locked in a case in your car. You can't loan it to anybody (unless that person also has a Waffenerwerbschein), you can't even inherit a gun without getting a Waffenerwerbschein.

You also can't just buy ammunition. You need a Waffenerwerbschein for that, too.

And the rules for retaining your weapons after military service have changed a while ago. It is still optionally possible, but no longer automatic.

(all cites in German)

As an aside, the crime rate, and also the gun ownership laws, are actually not that different between Switzerland and comparable parts of Germany.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Introducing micro-states such as Lichtenstein and Monaco who have a population of less than 50 thousand people is not very relevant in the disucssion. And putting Switzerland in the same sentence is misleading: it is not a very large country but 8 million people is not a small number either. – assylias Jan 5 '17 at 11:55
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    @assylias Including Liechtenstein and Monaco actually was deliberate to highlight the statistical absurdity of drawing conclusions from such small numbers. Switzerland is such a small country, and murder is, thankfully, so rare that 8 million people are still not enough to make a reliable claim. – Kevin Keane Jan 5 '17 at 12:10
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    The original post says, crime rate not killing rate. You are citing killing rate (which you should clarify, as the German language source is not recognizable to the typical English speaker). Similarly, it's the gun ownership rate not laws that appear in the claim. To have a gun is more commonly based on actual ownership, not potential purchases. Switzerland is 97th of 233 countries in population, above the median. Not a small country. – Brythan Jan 5 '17 at 12:34
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    While I didn't add the banner, I expect it is because: Links to Wikipedia are frowned upon as tertiary sources. Find some more direct ones. Linking after each of your claims (and ideally quoting the source would help). The Swiss pages are probably also available in English which would help increase peer review. – Oddthinking Jan 5 '17 at 12:34
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    Minor nitpick, but you cannot cite many non-citizens being barred from owning guns as evidence that "one in two citizens have guns" seems unlikely. – Beofett Jan 5 '17 at 13:31
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Summary:

  • Claim 1: "1 in 2 citizens in Switzerland have guns" is contradicted by the study below:

A quarter of Swiss households reported that they own a gun for army service. Few Swiss households, less than 13%, own a gun for non-military reasons.

  • Claim 2: "Lowest crime rate in the world": comparing crime rates across countries is problematic (because different countries count different things in their crime statistics) but in general terms it's certainly true that Switzerland is known for its low crime rate. The implication that gun ownership in Switzerland does not result in negative effects is contradicted by the study below:

Switzerland’s limited gun access does not prevent gun violence. Greater firearm ownership predicts greater firearm suicide, homicide of females, and murder-suicide. ... The extensive gun control in [Israel and Switzerland] [does] not prevent guns from being associated with violent deaths

In detail:

This issue is addressed in Rosenbaum, J. (2012). Gun utopias? Firearm access and ownership in Israel and Switzerland. Journal of Public Health Policy, 33(1), 46–58. http://doi.org/10.1057/jphp.2011.56

The Harvard Injury Control Research Center summarises this study's results as:

Israel and Switzerland are not awash with firearms

Gun advocates cite Switzerland and Israel as exemplars of nations with widespread gun ownership, permissive gun laws, and encouragement of armed civilians who can deter and thwart shootings. These claims are evaluated with analysis of the International Crime Victimization Survey data and translation of laws and original source material.

The abstract of the study itself says:

Gun advocates claim that mass-casualty events are mitigated and deterred with three policies: (1) permissive gun laws, (2) widespread gun ownership, (3) encouragement of armed civilians who can intercept shooters, and cite Switzerland and Israel as exemplars. We evaluate these claims with analysis of International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) data and translation of laws and original source material. Swiss and Israeli laws limit firearm ownership and require permit renewal 14 times annually. ... Switzerland and Israel curtail off-duty soldiers firearm access to prevent firearm deaths.

The study addresses gun control laws in Switzerland:

Gun control laws in Switzerland

The Swiss federal government requires gun permit applicants to demonstrate need for protection against a specific risk and pass weapons safety and firearm use regulation tests (Swiss code RS 514.54, ch. 6, art. 27 (1997)). Permit holders may own only one handgun for 6 months, after which they must renew their permit every 3 months (Swiss code RS 514.54, ch. 2, §1, art. 8 (1997))

It discusses the prevalence of gun ownership in Switzerland:

Gun ownership in Switzerland

Poe called Switzerland “the most heavily armed nation on earth, per capita,” with 2 million guns. At the time of his writing, Poe was not correct: the 2002 Small Arms Survey estimated 1.2 million civilian firearms in Switzerland, or 16 per 100 residents, versus 83–97 civilian firearms per 100 residents in the US for the same period. Swiss firearm ownership increased between 2002 and 2007 Small Arms Surveys because military rifles were released to the public due to drastic army size reductions. In 2007, Switzerland had 31–60 total firearms per 100 residents, about the same as Finland, and less than the estimated 83–97 per 100 in the US and 29–81 per 100 in Yemen.

... A quarter of Swiss households reported that they own a gun for army service. Few Swiss households, less than 13%, own a gun for non-military reasons. Gun advocates claim that Swiss own guns due to tradition, but more than six times as many US households reported owning a gun because they’ve “always had one” (Figure 2). Gun advocates claim that Swiss own guns because shooting contests are the national sport, but only 5% of Swiss households reported owning guns for sport versus 12% of American households. Eight times as many American households reported owning a gun for “self-protection” as did Swiss.

Switzerland’s limited gun access does not prevent gun violence. Greater firearm ownership predicts greater firearm suicide, homicide of females, and murder-suicide. Swiss gun owners are more likely than non-gun owners to report having seriously injured others. Respondents who owned a handgun or more than one gun reported more violence than respondents who owned long guns or just one gun. These findings imply that either owning a gun makes these men more violent, or that more violent men choose to own guns and Swiss law does not screen out violent men.

Switzerland has a large proportion of firearm suicide relative to other European countries, and the proportion increased as household gun ownership increased between 1983 and 2000. Within Switzerland, Swiss cantons with greater household firearm ownership had more firearm suicide between 1998 and 2007, and firearm suicide decreased as household firearm ownership declined in this decade. Military weapons account for about 40% of firearm suicides in Switzerland and at least a third of murder-suicides. Firearm prevalence in Switzerland is also proportional to the prevalence of firearm homicide of women but not men. These ecological studies are correlational, but Martin Killias notes that they are unlikely attributable to confounding by violent crime. High rates of violent crime might induce firearm ownership, but there is no “third variable which, simultaneously, might push people to buy guns, to kill female partners (but not male opponents), and to commit assault or suicide, but not robbery.”

The study concludes:

Conclusions

Swiss and Israeli gun ownership is rare, regulated stringently such as by putting the burden of proof on permit applicants to demonstrate a specific need for a gun, and neither country encourages gun ownership. The extensive gun control in both countries do not prevent guns from being associated with violent deaths ...

(The DOI link is paywalled but this link gives full access to the study).

See also: Switzerland guns: Living with firearms the Swiss way, Emma Jane Kirby, BBC News, Zurich. 11 February 2013

  • Thank you @Sklivvz. The only part I'm not sure about is right at the start, the claim talks about 'citizens' but the paper talks about 'households'. Given we have no reason to believe that gun-owning households contain a different number of citizens on average than non-gun-owning households (and so the 'households' proportion should carry over to 'citizens') I don't think it's a problem and I didn't want to over-complicate the summary, but it's not as direct a correspondence as I'd wish. – A E Jan 8 '17 at 22:12
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    I honestly suspect the "50% of citizens" in the claim comes out of the fact that 50% of citizens are male and get a gun at military service. I would not really lose much sleep over that. – Sklivvz Jan 8 '17 at 22:23
  • Great answer, but I have one concern. The section on gun control laws seems to refer to carrying permits rather than permits to acquire guns. Carrying permits are pretty much limited to professionals (police etc.) and certain high-risk individuals (such as jewelers). Since the OP was about simply "having" guns, that point should be clarified. – Kevin Keane Jan 9 '17 at 21:33
  • @KevinKeane I agree the source is a little ambiguous in saying "gun permit" without specifying whether that's a permit to own or a permit to carry. The cited law is here admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19983208/index.html and the source refers to article 27 (which is about carrying) and article 8 (which is about owning; it says "anyone wishing to obtain a weapon; admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19983208/index.html#a8 ). So that law regulates both ownership and carrying. More info: loc.gov/law/help/firearms-control/switzerland.php#Current – A E Jan 9 '17 at 21:48

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