Gun-rights advocates in the United States often cite Switzerland as an example of relatively liberal regulation going hand-in-hand with low gun crime.
The country's 8 million people own about 2.3 million firearms. But firearms were used in just 24 Swiss homicides in 2009, a rate of about 0.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. The U.S. rate that year was about 11 times higher.
Unlike in the United States, where guns are used in the majority of murders, in Switzerland only a quarter of murders involve firearms. The most high-profile case in recent years occurred when a disgruntled petitioner shot dead 14 people at a city council meeting in 2001.
Experts say Switzerland's low gun-crime figures are influenced by the fact that most firearms are military rifles issued to men when they join the country's conscript army . Criminologist Martin Killias at the University of Zurich notes that as Switzerland cut the size of its army in recent decades, gun violence — particularly domestic killings and suicides — dropped too.
The key issue is how many people have access to a weapon, not the total number of weapons owned in a country, Killias said. "Switzerland's criminals, for example, aren't very well armed compared with street criminals in the United States."
Critics of gun ownership in Switzerland have pointed out that the country's rate of firearms suicide is higher than anywhere else in Europe. But efforts to tighten the law further and force conscripts to give their guns back after training have failed at the ballot box — most recently in a 2012 referendum.
Gun enthusiasts — many of whom are members of Switzerland's 3,000 gun clubs — argue that limiting the right to bear arms in the home of William Tell would destroy a cherished tradition and undermine the militia army's preparedness against possible invasion.
BRAZIL — BEYOND REPAIR?
So how about a country that actually bans guns?
Since 2003, Brazil has come close to fitting that description. Only police, people in high-risk professions and those who can prove their lives are threatened are eligible to receive gun permits. Anyone caught carrying a weapon without a permit faces up to four years on prison.
But Brazil also tops the global list for gun murders.
According to a 2011 study by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 34,678 people were murdered by firearms in Brazil in 2008, compared to 34,147 in 2007. The numbers for both years represent a homicide-by-firearm rate of 18 per 100,000 inhabitants — more than five times higher than the U.S. rate.
Violence is so endemic in Brazil that few civilians would even consider trying to arm themselves for self-defense. Vast swaths of cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are slums dominated by powerful drug gangs, who are often better armed than the police. Brazilian officials admit guns flow easily over the nation's long, porous Amazon jungle border.
Still, Guaracy Mingardi, a crime and public safety expert and researcher at Brazil's top think tank, Fundacao Getulio Vargas, said the 2003 law helped make a dent in homicides by firearms in some areas.
According to the Sao Paulo State Public Safety Department, the homicide rate there was 28.29 per 100,000 in 2003 and dropped to 10.02 per 100,000 in 2011.
Brazil wants more powerful guns in the hands of police. This month, the army authorized law enforcement officers to carry heavy caliber weapons for personal use.
Ligia Rechenberg, coordinator of the Sou da Paz, or "I am for Peace," violence prevention group, thinks that could make things worse. She said police will buy weapons that "they don't know how to handle, and that puts them and the population at risk."
Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Stan Lehman and Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.