2007-05-04 : Armed and Suicidal

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2007-05-04 : Armed and Suicidal

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2007-05-04 09:57

Armed and suicidal

By Douwe Miedema

May 04, 2007 Edition 1

Switzerland is one of the world's richest and most tranquil countries,
but it also has more suicides than most. This may show that money
doesn't buy happiness, but some Swiss also blame the guns.

Guns are omnipresent in this Alpine country - some estimates run to at
least one for every three of its 7,5-million inhabitants. Many are
stored in people's attics, a legacy of its famed policy of arming its
men to defend its neutrality.

Now the country is debating whether it should continue to arm its
citizens, a practice which has helped it escape the need for a large
standing army but flooded the country with weapons.

"Compared to countries abroad, a large number of suicides involve
firearms . And that's of course because it is easier to get hold of
guns here," said Boris Banga, a socialist member of parliament who
wants stricter laws.

Using his army pistol, private banker Gerold Stadler last year put an
end to his own life, after killing his pregnant wife - World Cup ski
champion Corinne Rey-Bellet - and her brother.

As parliament was discussing arms legislation, a random shooter
emptied his rifle in a bar, killing one and wounding four. Weeks
earlier, a young man had shot his girlfriend. Both cases involved army

A survey by the Blick newspaper last month showed 66% wanted guns out
of Swiss attics, while 77% said there was no need to store both guns
and ammunition at home in order to defend the country.

The Swiss suicide rate stands at 19,1 suicides per 100 000
inhabitants, a 2005 study by the country's Federal Health Office said,
well above the World Health Organisation's global average of 14,5 and
of 14,1 in the European Union.

That figure may be inflated by assisted suicides - about 10% of
suicides are through the suicide-assistance groups for which the
country has built up some fame.

It ranks Switzerland among the 10 countries with the highest suicide
rates in Europe, together with a group of former communist countries
and Austria, Finland and Belgium.

So why are the affluent Swiss more prone to take their own lives than
other nations?

One often-heard explanation highlights a link to religion, noting that
Switzerland's predominantly Protestant areas have more suicides than
the Catholic cantons.

"The second reason is certainly easy access to suicide methods, in
this case firearms in Switzerland, which contributes to a high rate,"
said Vladeta Ajdacic, a sociologist at a psychiatric hospital at
Zurich's university.

Army recruits often buy their rifle or pistol when they leave the
service and a large portion of the country's private weapons comes
from the military - though numbers are hard to get, because guns are
not registered.

A quarter of suicides involved firearms in the 1969-2000 period,
according to the Federal Health Office study.

Member of parliament Banga estimates there are 2,5-million guns in
Switzerland, making the Alpine nation one of Europe's most heavily
armed together with Austria, Germany and Finland.

Geneva-based pressure group Small Arms Survey puts the consensus
estimate for Switzerland between 2,3- and 4,5-million firearms, making
the number given by Banga - himself an ardent marksman - look

Banga's party and others are preparing a popular vote in favour of
stricter laws for later this year.

So far, the law has been changing only slowly. Parliament has recently
confirmed that conscripts should keep weapons at home. Only the
practice that ammunition is also stored at home may now change.
Gun proponents say a militia army is still the best way to defend
neutrality - a concept that defines Swiss identity just as much as its
snow-capped mountains and luxury watches, and is supported almost
unanimously by the population.

"With a weapon in hand, Switzerland has won and kept its liberty over
the centuries, because the individual citizen as a soldier took
responsibility for himself and his kin," says Willi Pfund, who heads
the country's Pro-Tell guns lobby.

Named after Switzerland's mythical founder William Tell - who famously
hit an apple placed on his son's head before turning his crossbow
against the country's Austrian rulers - the group may be an equally
formidable opponent. - Reuters
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