Gunman in Swiss attack known to authorities
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PARIS -- As much as many Americans, the Swiss love their guns, seeing them as integral to their national traditions of self-reliance, independence and international neutrality, with a trained and equipped citizen-army capable of deterring any foolish invader. Many Swiss, after serving in the army, keep their service weapons at home, and the country has no national register for firearms.
Only two years ago, in February 2011, the Swiss handily rejected restrictions on gun ownership in a national referendum.
Those views are unlikely to change soon, even after a mentally imbalanced man shot and killed three women and wounded two men Wednesday night in the southern Swiss village of Daillon. The gunman, who was known to authorities but not thought to be dangerous, was wounded by police as they arrested him and is now in intensive care.
The gunman, 33, who was not named, had been placed in a psychiatric ward in 2005, when guns he then owned were taken from him and destroyed, according to Swiss police in the canton of Valais, about 60 miles east of Geneva. It is not known how he got the firearms he used in the killings -- including a hunting gun and a Swiss army carbine in use in the first half of the last century, a regional public prosecutor, Catherine Seppey, told a news conference -- but guns are easily available in Switzerland.
According to villagers who spoke to local news agencies, the gunman was a local, unemployed, on welfare, getting psychiatric care and a ward of the court. Around 9 p.m. Wednesday, he began firing from his apartment toward passers-by in the street and neighboring buildings before coming outside and continuing to fire as many as 20 shots. He had been drinking heavily, some villagers told the Swiss website 20minutes.ch.
The gunman killed three Daillon women, ages 72, 54 and 32. All were shot at least twice, in the head and chest. The two injured men were 63 and 33; one is in critical condition. The youngest woman killed was married to the younger wounded man, and they had young children together, Ms. Seppey said.
"We have no words to express ourselves after an event like this," Christophe Germanier, head of the Conthey District, said at a news conference.
The gunman's only previous conviction was for marijuana use. The village has only about 200 people and is surrounded by vineyards.
In a separate incident Wednesday, an armed man in another village stormed into a restaurant and fired into the ceiling, but no one was hurt. In 2001, a local man shot and killed 14 people in the town of Zug.
There are said to be at least 2.3 million weapons among a Swiss population of less than 8 million people. Gun clubs and hunting are popular. Swiss men required to do national service often take their army rifles, now semiautomatic assault rifles, home with them, to be ready for some future invader. But since 2007, according to The Associated Press, the government has required that most ammunition for these weapons be kept at secure army depots.
But thousands of Swiss also own hunting rifles, target rifles and pistols. Switzerland's firearms laws are minimal. The local debate tends to center more on the high rate of guns used in suicides.
In the campaign before the February 2011 referendum, the Swiss Medical Association argued that keeping army weapons in secure arsenals, instead of at home, would reduce suicides and domestic violence. Jacques de Haller, the association president, told the BBC at the time: "We have statistics which show that young men commit suicide with the military firearm. What's more, you have domestic violence from that."
He argued that the tradition no longer made sense. "We're not going to defend Switzerland against the Red Army from the kitchen window or the back yard," he said. "Today, the dangers are different."
The referendum would have required storage of army rifles in a central, locked store, the screening of gun owners and a national registry of firearms. The proposal was rejected by 56 percent of voters and a majority of cantons.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am