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Why the home of William Tell has got tough on weapons

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Switzerland is synonymous with the right of citizens to bear arms. Its fabled hero, William Tell, who famously shot the apple from the head of his son with an arrow, is the emblem of the national pastime of marksmanship.

Some Swiss cantons would only allow men to marry if they owned a satisfactorily large stockpile of arms and armour. Its tradition of armed "citizen's militias" impressed America's Founding Fathers.

A poster from the campaign against the EU's laws.Credit:Keystone

Indeed, American gun control activists can put some of the blame on Switzerland for the US mania for guns. The Swiss example influenced early American thinking about the US second amendment, the right to bear arms.

The Swiss citizens' militias, armed, trained and independent of centralised government, were one of the factors reputed to have deterred Nazi Germany from invading.

Even today, men discharged from Switzerland's compulsory national service are permitted to take their service weapons home to keep. The country has one of the world's higher rates of gun ownership, about double Australia's, though nowhere near that of gun nut central, the US.

Half of all Swiss homes have a gun. Civilians own an estimated 2.3 million firearms, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, which is one for every four people. Yet the country has suffered no mass shooting since 2001. There is no crisis of gun crime.

So what would happen if........

© The Age