May 03, 2007

Do Tell

If you know anyone in Switzerland you might want to give them a call. seems like they're about to get hit hard with what we've been through for a few decades over here so any insights you have would help them out.

"Will suicidal Swiss stick to their guns?"

Now that's some unbiased headlinin', ain't it? The article was written by Douwe Miedema. From what I could find through a quick search, he's Reuters European Wealth Management correspondent. I know - I'm all a-flitter with what the next words will bring too.

"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."

I really wish somebody (namely the author of any piece which includes the word) would precisely define "some". We talking 42.7% of the population? Does it mean the guys int he newsroom who happen to be in the country? Or is it just that a reporter/columnist assumes there has to be at least 2 people with a certain view & that'd qualify as "some"?

"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."

Actually the armed men defend the country's security. You can be very neutral while you're being invaded & most invaders prefer that to the people they're invading taking a side.

But 1 for every 3 people? Every time I see a figure like that I start to think, " that's a rifle, handgun & shotgun for every pers- oh, they meant 1 gun for every 3 people..."

"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."

Actually a large standing army would have "flooded the country with weapons". They'd just be stored at government arsenals instead of in the hands of the people. How does one "flood" with a weapon though? & could a collector build some sort of dam?

"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."

Okay, there's 1 of the previously mentioned "some". I wonder if Boris would feel better if the suicide rate was predominantly composed of folks jumping off of tall buildings? & what'dya know - the first "one" of the "some" happens, by coincidence, to be a socialist. Whoda thunk it? (note; I do not mean to imply, insinuate, or otherwise hint at the possibility that because a person wants to use government as a tool of force to deny & abridge property & freedom of the individual that they would be in favor of disarming those individuals first).

"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, in the French-speaking Swiss hamlet of Les Crosets." (link added)

That's a very tragic anecdote, but it is an anecdote. Most men do not need a firearm to kill most women. In this case the murdering bastard killed her & her brother & seriously injured her mother. He could have just as well used a screwdriver, starting with his brother-in-law & then killed the two ladies without too much more difficulty. In fact it's possible that had he used a stabbing or blunt impact weapon he would have made sure of his mother-in-law's death.

But the point is that one example, no matter how tragic, is not enough to disarm an entire people. It was thrown in the article for the emotional appeal; to get the reader into a more sympathetic frame of mind for the gun control proposals that are sure to follow.

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

According to around 300 people a year die from gunshots inflicted with military arms. According to this .pdf of a Swiss Foreign and Security Policy Network document from 2004 there are around 400,000 military weapons in private homes. Just so you can put things in perspective. The country has 7 million people in it (approximately) compared to our 280 million. From my rough math that means if the swiss population were that of the u.s. it'd translate into 12,000 martial arms related incidents per year. Not too different from what our homicide with firearm rate seems to hover at. Of course those 300 deaths per year attributed to the use or martial arms in Switzerland is unqualified; no mention is made of the number of suicides or negligent discharges.

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

According to Wikipedia's "criticism" section in their page about the Swiss Military:

"There is an organised movement in Switzerland...aiming at the abolition of the military. The Swiss have voted twice on such a referendum. The first time was in 1989, when 64.4% of the voters voted in favour of maintaining the Swiss Army. The second vote was in 1999, with 76.8% in favour."

I can only assume that the poll mentioned in the paper must have either not been reflective of Swiss voters or attitudes have changed dramatically in the last 8 years. Of course the 2 questions are slightly different, but given that Switzerland has a militia system in place I can't see there being that significant a change in answers for either question.


Or alternatively, where correlation must equal causation.

"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 Organization's global average of 14.5 and of 14.1 in the
European Union."

Sounds bad doesn't it? Here's a Wikipedia page that lists suicide rates by country. Lithuania tops the list at 41 per 100,000. Gun free japan has a rate of 23 per 100,000. Belgium has a rate of 21 per 100,000. Austria is at 17 per 100,000. The u.S. is around 11 per 100,000. a rate much closer to zero would probably be better in all countries, but looking at those countries I listed the swiss aren't quite as bad off as it may seem.

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

Ah, a bit of honesty? An assisted suicide practice would make for a higher number of suicides per capita but in some if not most of those cases it wouldn't (or shouldn't) be seen as negatively as a 23 year old who gets overly stressed out by a final exam & decides he can't go on.

"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."

It has Switzerland as number 15 in the Wikipedia page that lists suicide rates by counties, albeit that covers the world, not just Europe.

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

Well they may not be - at least not in the sense the question was intended. It depends upon how much the assisted suicide rate alters the overall suicide rate. But why let that get in the way of a good gun control argument?

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

That one surprised me a bit - both for its substance & its' inclusion. But are they suggesting that Protestants want to get to heaven quicker than Catholics?

"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."

Ah, there it is. Even though the u.S. has more guns per capita & a lower suicide rate, & Japan has almost no guns per capita & a higher suicide rate, the swiss suicide rate must be because of the "flood" of guns in that country. Now it all makes perfect sense.

"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."

According to this Dave Kopel's paper bolt action rifles are not required to be registered (& bolt actions are given to militia members when they leave the service). There is no registration requirement for long guns (except for full-autos not associated with militia service). However I do not imagine that any military would not record the disposition of any of its inventory. There may not be individual gun owner registration (except for full auto's & a purchase permit required for handguns in some cantons) but it should not be difficult to get a good estimate of military sold arms int he hands of the general public from military records. 400,000 or so seems to be what's been agreed upon as the number of military arms in private homes.

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

So 5 per 100,000 suicides in Switzerland involve a firearm.

"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."

A firearm for every 3 people.

To put it in perspective (again from Kopel's paper linked above):

"Guns are used in about one-fifth of all Swiss suicides compared to three-fifths of American and one-third of Canadian suicides."

I believe Swiss gun ownership rates are lower than the u.S. but higher than Canada. If I wasn't already emotionally engaged by the anecdotes described earlier int he article I would think that gun-per-capita rates aren't such a big factor int he overall suicide rates. But correlation has to equal causation right?

"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 conservative."

The upper end figure would mean 1 gun for 1.5 swiss. Now that's more like it. :) & note the use of "ardent marksman" to describe the socialist supporter of victim disarmament. It's equivalent to the use of "hunter" or maybe "avid sportsman" over here. Some tricks transcend cultural & language barriers it seems.


Oh please do.

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

Somehow I'm no shocked to my bone that a socialist & his party want to disarm the people, starting with what I'm sure are "modest, common sense" measures.

"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."

That makes no sense. The reason the swiss kept their rifles at home (aside from enjoying target shooting) was to have a ready weapon on the way to their mobilization point. A rifle without ammo is an awkward club so I cannot fathom such a change occurring. If they did that they might as well, from a pragmatic standpoint, go ahead & prohibit storing weapons at home.

"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."

Hmm If they have almost unanimous support for keeping the militia system then it would seem the gun control advocates are a small but vocal group, no doubt aided by the complimentary press coverage much like we see over here.

"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." (link added)

Note the use of the word "liberty" & contrast that with the reporters use of the word "neutrality".

"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." (link added0

Possibly because it enjoys broad popular support? 200,000 at a week-end shooting event? If I can brush up on my French or German I might have to try to make one of those someday.

I admit the article was not as bad as it could have been, but while short of coming right out & saying that "more guns = more suicides" it would point an uninformed reader in that direction. Two anti-gun folks were quoted while only one pro-gun person was quoted (though it was a good general quote, it didn't directly deal with the subject at hand - whether firearm possession is related to suicide rates in Switzerland).

It looks like the swiss will be seeing more of these articles & probably with an increased & more open bias favoring gun control. Switzerland signed onto the Schengen Agreement & in order to comply they must tighten up some of their gun control laws (though aside from those listed here I'm not sure how stiff they'll have to be).

In any case if you know someone in Switzerland give him/her all the advice you can on dealing with gun control groups & the press (that was redundant) as they will probably get the same thing we've been getting over here - just with a different accent.

Posted by Publicola at May 3, 2007 07:13 AM | TrackBack

Hmm. Douwe is really jumping through hoops to make a point that isn't supported by the evidence. I have to admire his tenacity though, since he never once conceded that he's fibbing. He's either a sociopath or an accomplished prevaricator...or a touch or each.

In the decade from '89 to '99, support for the Swiss army surged almost 20%? That's impressive. I doubt that Douwe will meet with much success on his journey of disarming the Swiss populace.

Posted by: skh.pcola at May 3, 2007 05:45 PM