April 12, 2019 / 10:33 AM / 2 months ago

Swiss set to back tighter gun controls, avoid EU clash: poll

ZURICH (Reuters) - Two of out three Swiss voters support tightening gun controls in line with changes to European Union rules, a poll released on Friday showed, potentially heading off a clash with Brussels.

FILE PHOTO: Participants fire their infantry and assault rifles during the traditional 'Ruetlischiessen' (Ruetli shooting) competition at the Ruetli meadow in central Switzerland November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann//File Photo

The restrictions, which apply to non-EU member Switzerland because it is part of Europe’s Schengen open-border system, have raised hackles among Swiss shooting enthusiasts ahead of a binding referendum on May 19.

Failure to adopt the rules could force Switzerland to leave the passport-free Schengen zone and the Dublin joint system for handling asylum requests.

After militants killed scores in Paris and elsewhere in 2015, the EU in 2017 toughened laws against purchasing semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in those attacks, and made it easier to track weapons in national databases.

Friday’s gfs.bern poll for broadcaster SRF showed 66 percent of eligible voters questioned support tougher gun controls while 33 percent opposed the change. The margin of error was 2.9 percentage points.

The initial EU proposal provoked an outcry because it meant a ban on the long Swiss tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles.

Swiss officials have negotiated concessions for gun enthusiasts who take part in the country’s numerous shooting clubs, but any restrictions imported from the EU go too far for right-wing activists concerned about Swiss sovereignty.

Gun rights proponents complain the rules could disarm law-abiding citizens and encroach on Switzerland’s heritage and national identity that includes a well-armed citizenry.

Switzerland has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in Europe, with nearly 48 percent of households owning a gun.

But that harks back to a long tradition of self-defense and to the Swiss policy of near-universal conscription, and gun-related crime is low.

In a separate referendum also on May 19, voters will decide on a corporate tax overhaul whose passage the finance minister has described as “existential” for Switzerland as a business hub.

The gfs.bern poll showed 54 percent of voters support the revamp, a much tighter outcome than the comfortable majority predicted in a separate Tamedia survey this month.

Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by John Stonestreet

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