It is a well known fact that the little principality of Switzerland, which famously sat out World War Two actually has the largest number of guns per 100 people anywhere in the world. The Swiss missus and misters decided that since they lived an alpine existence and had an unnaturally large reliance on cheese, they would sit out a war that would interrupt their peaceful way of life. They also couldn’t decide on who was the enemy and even if they did the sound of cowbells, which had to be attached to all clothing according to the 1664 Cowbell Act, would have alerted enemy soldiers well in advance of any offensive.
Yet under every bed, in every cupboard and under every carpet a weapon is hidden.
The story of Swiss guns is the also the story of small arms globally, for without the Swiss precision found in their clocks and trains, the handgun may never have been invented.
On a recent visit to Gün in the small hamlet of Marbach, Switzerland, we discovered the National Alpine Gun Museum, which takes the visitor on an exciting interactive tour of the history of guns.
Visitors are strapped into a small electric tram which propels through a network of rooms and interactive displays. The originally-named Room 1 tells of the origins of the gun from pre-history showing archaeological evidence of cavemen filling hollow sticks with flint ‘shot’ and blowing it at animals. Room 2 moves to the Roman Empire where gladiators, in what was Genevartium (modern day Geneva) employed a similar method as a surprise attack against sword-wielding opponents.
The rooms continue through history until we arrive in Room 62, which shows the first use of a gun outside of Switzerland in 1827, when Gustav Rulex introduced the gun at the World’s Fair in Boston. Famously the first international conflict using guns was the American Civil War. Of the 450,000 dead, nearly 6 people met their deaths by Swiss guns from Gün. This was also the first, but not the last, mass killing using the new Swiss weapon.
Room 213 brings us up to speed with more modern history. In 1972, the Swiss lost their patent and other companies started manufacturing guns. Smith and Wesson were most famously the biggest manufacturers and exporters of guns in America. But, and this is a big but, it turns out that the company was actually owned by Gustav Rulex’s sons Colt and Luger Rulex, thus keeping the Swiss monopoly on guns.
Although some historians claim to have evidence to the contrary the museum spins the Swiss government’s official line that Switzerland still has full global control over all gun manufacturing and sales.
So next time you hear of a murder, a war, a terror attack or just a kid randomly shooting his class up, you can smile in the knowledge that you know the weapon was Swiss made.
You can book online to visit the National Alpine Gun Museum at http://www.NAGMU.goc.unt