On September 27, 2001, Friedrich Leibacher entered the Parliament building in Canton Zug and shot to death 14 politicians with four different guns. He fired 91 rounds, wounding eleven people besides those who died, set off a homemade bomb, and then shot himself. He acted in the belief that he was being persecuted by the cantonal authorities, and left a letter behind entitled “Day of Wrath for the Zug Mafia.”
Due solely to this incident, the death rate by mass shooting between 2000 and 2014 was 1.7 per million people in Switzerland. In the United States, by contrast, there were 133 mass shootings in the same period of time—for a death rate of 1.5 per million. Had Switzerland had as low a rate during these years as the United States, only 12.4 politicians would have died on the Day of Wrath in Zug.
You might object that mass shootings are an anomaly in Switzerland, and that the high toll of this single incident and the small population of the country combine to render this statistic meaningless. In the United States, you might say, mass shootings are a regular enough occurrence that the numbers actually mean something.
Before dismissing the statistic entirely, however, it’s worth putting it into a relevant context. A recent study by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankdorf demonstrates that mass shootings, both internationally and locally, are correlated with only one single variable. This variable is not mental health, it is not the playing of video games, it is not racial diversity, and it is not overall crime rate. It is, purely and simply, the rate of gun ownership.
And Switzerland has, after the United States, the highest rate of gun ownership among all developed countries. Its gun homicide rate—in 2004, 7.7 deaths per million people— is correspondingly very high. The rate in Great Britain is eleven times lower.
If Lankdorf’s conclusion is correct, we can expect Switzerland to have an exceptionally high rate of deaths by mass shooting. It ought not to be higher than that of the United States—as it was in the period from 2000 to 2014—but rather, based on gun ownership statistics, about half as high: the second highest in the developed world. Thus, while the Zug massacre was horrifying and shocking, it can’t truly be said to be an anomaly.
As, indeed, it wasn’t. In 1912 in Romanshorn a local man began shooting from the window of his house. He hit twelve people and killed six on the spot.
This is probably not the result the Swiss Tourism Office is looking for. But, as the comedian Eddie Izzard has commented, spoofing the slogan of the National Rifle Association: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. (Pause) But I think the gun helps.” Swiss guns help just as much as their American cousins.