What Swiss Guns Tell Us About American Mass Shootings

Switzerland is behind only the U.S. and Yemen in rate of gun ownership. For Americans, maybe it's not just about the quantity of guns but also their relationship with them.

Swiss gun culture is shaped by the country's mandatory military service
Swiss gun culture is shaped by the country's mandatory military service
Tori Otten


After the shooting in Las Vegas, social media platforms predictably lit up with calls for new gun control laws. And just as predictably, American gun rights advocates repeated the truism that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." But to better understand why America has a singular malady of homicide-by-firearm, it may be worth looking at Switzerland.

Lausanne-based daily Le Temps reports Thursday that among that nation's 8.4 million inhabitants, there are about 3.4 million legally owned guns — making it the third-highest level of gun ownership in the world, just behind the United States and Yemen. But even though it has a lot of guns, Switzerland also has incredibly stringent gun laws. Anyone who purchases a firearm has to undergo a thorough background check, even when buying from a private individual. Fully automatic weapons are banned. Also, when transporting a gun, the owner must go directly to the shooting range or hunting ground and then back home. Detours, such as to the grocery store, while carrying your weapon are prohibited.

Maybe America's mass shooting epidemic is not just about access to guns.

And yes, famously neutral Switzerland is also keeping the peace at home. It has one of the world's lowest murder rates, and has had just one mass shooting in recent decades: in 2001, when a man opened fire in the parliament house, killing 14 people, including himself.

Switzerland clearly has a gun culture of its own, but a very different one than the U.S. It is based primarily in the country's mandatory military service, where Swiss citizens learn about guns in a highly controlled group setting. Owning a gun for self-defense, or for the sake of owning a gun, is uncommon, Le Temps explains. Even mid-level criminals, such as drug dealers, are generally unarmed.

So maybe America's mass shooting epidemic is not just about access to guns, but about the country's relationship with its weapons. Canada, its northern neighbor, also happens to rank high (13th) on the list of gun ownership, with a rate of 30.8 firearms per 100 residents.

As Mathieu Bock-Côté writes in the Journal de Montréal, the U.S. expresses itself "through an unhealthy passion for firearms." Gun shows, pro-gun rights rallies, gun fashion shows: Americans are obsessed with their guns.

The most impassioned argument against gun regulations is that people don't want the government "taking away" their firearms. Americans need their guns to feel safe — but sometimes also to feel powerful. When someone commits a massacre like Sunday night's in Las Vegas, Bock-Côté writes, he wants "for a moment to feel like the master of the world." Is there anything more American than that?

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!