Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Facebook posts
"Switzerland (where the government) issues every household a gun . . . has the lowest gun related crime rate of any civilized country in the world!!!"

Facebook posts on Sunday, December 16th, 2012 in a Facebook posting

Facebook posting says the gun-rich Swiss have the lowest firearm crime rate in the civilized world

Gun control advocates say that fewer guns mean less gun crime. But a Dec. 16 posting on Facebook by a group calling itself the Conservatives Club argues exactly the opposite, and uses the example set by Switzerland to prove its point.

The portion of the post, titled "A Little Gun History," that is in all capital letters caught our attention. It says, "Switzerland issues every household a gun! Switzerland's government trains every adult they issue a rifle. Switzerland has the lowest gun related crime rate of any civilized country in the world!!! It's a no brainer! Don't let our government waste millions of our tax dollars in an effort to make all law abiding citizens an easy target."

We thought the assertion that Switzerland "has the lowest gun related crime rate of any civilized country in the world" was worth checking out. (We’ll also give you some background about Switzerland's policy on issuing guns.)

(Coincidentally, on Jan. 2, 2013, while we were working on this item, gun policy in Switzerland made the news after a man who started shooting people on the street left three women dead and two men wounded in the Swiss village of Daillon.)

One source of information about guns is GunPolicy.Org, an evidence-based database on firearm safety hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health in Australia and partly co-funded, coincidentally, by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. We ran some comparisons through their database.

We're not going to get into the definition of what makes a "civilized" country; instead, we looked at GunPolicy.org’s data on gun homicide rates for 24 countries, mostly in western Europe but also Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Switzerland's gun homicide rate was anything but "the lowest."

It was fourth highest.

Only Greece, Ireland and the United States had higher rates.

(Switzerland also has the seventh highest suicide rate and the third highest rate of gun-related suicide, according to the GunPolicy.org data. In the latter case, only the United States and Finland had higher rates. Switzerland and Italy were tied for second for the rate of unintentional gun deaths; the United States was number one.)

"Guns kept at home are not necessarily dangerous in the streets, but mostly in situations that happen at home, such as suicide and murder of family members (especially females). In this respect, Switzerland has one of the highest proportions in the Western world," said Martin Killias, professor of criminology and criminal law at the University of Zurich Law School.

But homicide isn't the only type of gun crime, and the Facebook posting wasn't specific.

We wanted to know about all crimes involving a gun.

The problem is, "different countries classify crimes totally differently, which makes it difficult to make a broad statement like that," said Philip Alpers, a gun policy researcher at the University of Sydney who runs GunPolicy.org and edits a firearm injury prevention news service.

He said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is the best source because the organization classifies crimes in a consistent way. But that organization's website doesn't report data based on gun use, except when homicide is involved.

Nonetheless, we looked at its database on various crime categories such as assault, robbery, and theft, where guns were most likely to be involved, to see whether the crime rate in Switzerland was really that low.

It wasn't.

Eleven out of 26 countries had lower rates of theft than Switzerland.

Thirteen of 26 had lower rates of robbery.

Six of 26 had lower rates of assault.

So the Swiss can't boast the lowest crime rate, another claim gun advocates make.

How much of a role did guns play in such crimes?

The best database on that question was developed by the International Crime Victim Survey, begun in 1987 by a group of European criminologists in an attempt to compare crime rates in 31 countries and 32 major cities.

The ICVS was designed to standardize results and adjust for the fact that the legal definition of a crime can vary from country to country -- as can the willingness to report a crime. The data are based on surveys of victims. The most recent surveys were done in 2004 and 2005.

Once again, when you look at how often guns are used in the commission of a crime, Switzerland doesn't look like the safest place in Europe or other developed countries.

Instead of being at the top of the list among the safest of the 31 countries, Switzerland was tied for 12th when it came to the use of a firearm during a robbery. (The United States ranked 30th. Mexico was last.)

Switzerland was tied for 25th when it came to the risk of seeing a gun if you're the victim of an assault. (The United States was next to the bottom of the list by that measure as well.)

And while only 1 percent of the sexual offenses against women in Switzerland involved a gun, the rate was 0 percent in 22 other countries in the survey. (In the United States, the rate was 5 percent.)

In short, the claim about Switzerland seems completely made up.

One other point is particularly important here. The description of gun distribution in Switzerland omits important information.

The Swiss government doesn't hand out a gun to every household. It requires nearly every able-bodied young male adult to serve in the citizen militia, where they are issued a military rifle. The guns are supposed to be for military use only, not for personal defense.

Those men are supposed to show up for 18 weeks of training, followed by seven re-training sessions (each lasting three weeks) over the next 10 years.

If you want to keep your weapon after your years of service, it is refitted to scale back its firepower and you need to provide a reason for keeping it.

"It's very much like the militia ideal that was embodied in the Second Amendment," said Ladd Everett of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "Individuals who own military-style firearms are literally serving the national defense of their country."

The ammunition for the weaponry is kept in a government arsenal. (Swiss men used to be able to keep up to 50 rounds at home and the government did a periodic inventory to make sure it wasn't being used, but that changed in 2007 when the country tightened its rules.)

Ammunition purchased at shooting ranges -- which are very popular in Switzerland -- is supposed to be used there.

Overall, "they have fewer guns per capita than we do and far stricter gun laws in terms of private ownership," Everett said. "If the U.S. ever attempted to implement gun laws like Switzerland's, the NRA would fight it tooth and nail."

Our ruling

A Facebook posting, which has been shared more than 187,000 times, said, "Switzerland has the lowest gun related crime rate of any civilized country in the world."

But Killias, a Swiss researcher, told us, "The way Switzerland is being depicted in some [accounts] is absurd."

To say that the country has the lowest gun related crime rate is not true for homicide, according to the few studies of crime in various countries that includes data on gun use.

It's also not true that Switzerland has the lowest crime rate, whether or not guns are involved.

And survey data show that when a crime such as robbery or assault is committed, the likelihood of a gun being involved is lower in several countries than it is in Switzerland.

In short, this claim appears to be completely fabricated. We rate it Pants on Fire!

(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at politifact@providencejournal.com. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)