MENZNAU, Switzerland – A longtime employee opened fire at a wood-processing company in central Switzerland on Wednesday, leaving three people dead, including the assailant, in the country’s second multiple-fatality shooting in two months, police said.
Seven other people were wounded, six of them seriously, in the shooting at the premises of the company Kronospan, in the small town of Menznau, Lucerne criminal police chief Daniel Bussmann told reporters.
The incident occurred as the Swiss parliament prepares to consider tightening some aspects of the country’s famously lax gun legislation.
The assailant, a 42-year-old Swiss male, arrived at the premises shortly after 9 a.m., drew a pistol and started firing. Police spokesman Kurt Graf said the shootings took place in the building’s canteen area.
Officials didn’t immediately have further details on the weapon or how the assailant acquired it. They also did not know how the assailant was killed.
“A lot of things are unclear at this stage,” said Ida Glanzmann-Hunkeler, a Christian Democrat lawmaker who lives near the scene of the shooting.
Glanzmann-Hunkeler said a proposal will be put before parliament in the coming weeks that would require greater exchange of information between the gun registries kept by Switzerland’s 26 cantons. Authorities would also record whether a person is considered mentally fit to own a gun, and increase officials’ powers to confiscate weapons if they aren’t.
But the shooting is unlikely to immediately revive calls for ex-soldiers to store their military-issued firearms in secure army depot. The country has a long-standing tradition for men to keep their military rifles after completing compulsory military service.
This partly accounts for the high rate of gun ownership in the country, where some 2.3 million firearms are owned by a population of about 8 million.
A referendum to tighten the laws was defeated at the ballot box in 2011. At the time, opponents pointed to Switzerland’s relatively low rate of gun crime, with just 24 gun killings in 2009, which works out to a rate of about 0.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. The U.S. rate that year was about 11 times higher.
Still, there have been several high-profile incidents over the years, including the killing of 14 people at a city council meeting in Zug, not far from Lucerne, in 2001. And in early January, a 33-year-old man killed three women and wounded two men in a southern Swiss village.
Critics and advocates of gun rights doubted the latest shooting would lead to drastic law changes beyond the proposal now before parliament.
“If we demanded another referendum now, many people would say we already dealt with this two years ago,” said Tobias Estermann, a member of the anti-weapons group Switzerland Without an Army.
Peter Schilliger, a Lucerne lawmaker, said the popularity of shooting clubs in Switzerland means there is strong grassroots support for gun ownership.
“And anyway, it will always be possible to come by a weapon somehow,” he said.
Kronospan Chief Executive Mauro Capozzo said that the suspected assailant had been “with us for more than 10 years — a quiet man, no other incidents involving him are known.” Graf said the man was still with the company at the time of the shooting.
According to the local town council, Kronospan has some 450 employees. There was no immediate word on a possible motive; Capozzo said the company hasn’t laid anyone off recently.
Moulson reported from Berlin. Frank Jordans in Berlin also contributed.