Friendly Fire

A fatal attraction of the Italians for firearms. Now on the political news as well

Italy is a shooting star in Europe because of its economic stagnation lasting from many years, but also because its firearms production is a really advanced industry, able to influence even the USA market. The United States, in fact, are the main destination of 38% of guns, carbines and rifles produced by Italian specialized firms. To name just one: Beretta, already active in 1526 as supplier of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.

Italian firearms export is worth a turnover of 2.65 billion Euros in 2014, but such an huge economy presents shifty, unsettling contours. The real numbers are approximate most of the time (and never really updated) as a huge percentage of firearms sales and possessions go beyond legality. According to the Italian Police, 1.1 million are the firearms legally sold in Italy (2014 data), with 20,000 of them sold for personal defense and the rest mainly for hunting or sport purposes. Overall estimates talk about 9 million firearms circulating in the country, anyway, handled by no more than 3 million owners. These numbers help to (partially) understand why Italy owns the European record murders with firearms, with the province of Nuoro leading this sad rank. In this part of Sardinia, one resident out of ten owns at least a gun or a rifle, nourishing the highest rate of murders and wounding in Italy.

An expert of weapons proliferation has been studying the situation, Aaron Karp, a Political Science professor at the Old Dominion University of Norfolk, Virginia. Thanks to his work, website was able to detect another great anomaly in Italy: the security level is not very different from the other European countries but its police is by far the most armed in the EU with 420,000 firearms on duty – Germany is a far second with around 300,000.

A thorny truth is emerging, something the young photographer Mattia Micheli calls ironically “Friendly Fire”: in Italy there’s a peculiar fascination for firearms. A seduction passing over the limits imposed by recent 121/13 law, stating that to possess a firearm a psychophysical test must be passed. In shooting ranges and munitions stores, in the countryside where 810,000 hunting licenses hang around, among weapons convention’s habitues and the enthusiasts with their collection of shining rifles hanged on their living rooms, there’s a rooted love/hate feeling fulfilling them more than any other transgression.

It’s something distant, very different from the thrills running on the gun triggers of Cimino or Corbucci’s movie stars: the American myth of the firearms is now seen with a more attentive eye to the first, fatal contact, to what’s hidden in the collective imagination, to the almost physiological analysis of its conditioning. Because if a firearm is beautiful, and nicely crafted as the eternal “made in Italy” motto guarantees, it reassures and satisfies enough to wear thin the taboo of the extreme loaded gun until its gradual, final disappearance.

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