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Two million Swiss decide to stick with their guns

switzerland upheld its reputation for having one of the most liberal yet lethal firearms laws in Europe yesterday.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals that would have obliged some two million gun owners to keep their weapons in public arsenals rather than at home. Official results from a national referendum on gun control showed that more than half of Switzerland's 26 cantons voted against an initiative which aimed to ban army rifles from households in an attempt to reduce domestic shootings and a record number of suicides involving firearms.

Swiss soldiers have been encouraged to keep their rifles at home after leaving the forces, under a national defence policy introduced during the Second World War.

Switzerland's conservative politicians welcomed the outcome, saying it demonstrated the nation's reluctance to end a practice that upheld the traditions of its folk hero, William Tell. A gun ban was strongly opposed by the populist, right-wing Swiss People's Party, which organised a referendum last year banning minaret building at mosques. The result was a serious blow to Switzerland's nascent gun control lobby.

The gun-control lobby, which includes doctors, churches and suicide prevention groups, launched their "weapons initiative" campaign four years ago in an attempt to make it illegal for ex-soldiers and reservists to keep guns at home.

Switzerland has the highest rate of gun suicide in Europe, with around 300 self-inflicted deaths a year involving a firearm. There is no national firearms register in Switzerland.

However, unofficial estimates suggest there are between two and three million guns kept in Swiss households. Gun-control campaigners had argued that a ban on guns in the home would lead to a dramatic reduction in gun suicides and in the number of guns being used in domestic disputes.

The Swiss government banned gun owners from keeping live ammunition at home in 2008. (© The Independent, London)

Irish Independent