The local counselor of Voghera, Massimo Adriatici, belongs to the party Lega, a group famous for its populism and anti-immigration rhetoric. During the evening of July, 20th, Adriatici shot and killed Youns El Boussetaoui. Indeed, an immigrant. Youns died almost right away, the only bullet was fatal. The politician claimed it was an accident and the result of self-defense.
What happened begs the question: are guns legal in Italy?
How the system works
The Italian law admits the gun permit for three instances: hunting, sport, and self-defense. In the first two cases, the permit has to be renewed every five years. But the rules are different for self-defense.
In fact, the person applying for the permit has to show proof of danger. Anyone applying has to show the real need for a weapon. If they have valid reasons, they will be able to carry a gun, which in Italy can never be concealed. The self-defense permit lasts one year only. However, the law doesn’t specify the reasons that would grant a weapon.
The definition is generic, citing “safety” concerns as the main reasons. So, this can include people carrying jewels, business owners who have to carry large sums of money or people with a job that puts them at risk. Indeed, vague and up to interpretation.
Getting the permit
Still, to receive the permit, Italians have to show a medical certificate of psycho-physical fitness. The questionnaire asks people if they suffer from substance abuse or mental disorders. This is a self-questionnaire, meaning people fill it out by themselves, so the risk of lies is there. The doctor’s visit centers more on sight and hearing, looking at someone’s physical fitness. If the person passes the test, the permit is granted.
The reasons why a judge would deny the request depending on the person’s priors. In fact, the judge can deny the permit to someone who committed violent crimes, crimes against people (or the state), and to any criminal. Plus, the request of someone who doesn’t look trustworthy can be denied. So, someone who doesn’t guarantee there wasn’t abuse of the weapon. How that can be proved, it’s unclear.
So, after having paid a few taxes for bureaucrats, anyone can go out and purchase a weapon.
Buying the weapon
While gun shops in Italy might not be as popular or as evident as in the US, they exist. For example, there are 1061 Beretta shops in the country, stores where people can find that specific brand -and more. In total, there are over 1300 gun shops in the peninsula. Furthermore, one person can own three semiautomatic pistols (with 20-bullet magazines), 12 semiautomatic shotguns (unlimited magazine), and unlimited hunting shotguns. Italians can build an entire armory, shielded by self-defense or hunting.
And they are becoming more and more popular. During the pandemic, the permit requests rose by 10%, including sports, hunting, and self-defense. The latter amounts to a total of over 15,000. Instead, Italians are requesting sports permits, but no one checks the actual use of the weapon. So, they might have a gun at home for protection, when the documents say otherwise. So, guns are legal in Italy, after all. Despite the consequences.
In the past three years, one murder out of ten has been committed with registered weapons. There have been over 131 murders done by permit holders, compared to the 37 committed during a theft or robbery. So, these weapons kill. But how many are there? The latest data dates back to 2008 and the lack of more recent information is troublesome. The estimate is that there are 10 million weapons in the country, but the number could be higher. After the latest law on self-defense, Italians almost had an incentive to purchase a gun.
Massimo Adriatici claiming self-defense
The councilor Adriatici claims he acted in self-defense. And the leader of his party, Matteo Salvini, agrees. However, the 2019 law did introduce the rightful use of a gun in case of a home invasion. If a criminal breaks into the house, the homeowner can use the weapon to protect the people as much as the objects and material things. In this case, there is no blame, not even if the alleged thief is killed.
So, self-defense can’t happen outside of the bar, like it did in Voghera. Adriatici claimed his gun fired by mistake, while the two men were arguing. The politician claimed he saw Youns El Boussetaoui harass the clients of a local bar and he tried to chase him away. During a scuffle, the gun fired. And El Boussetaoui lost his life. If this series of events is true, the politician surely didn’t act in self-defense.
He claims it was an accident, while he is being investigated for culpable excess of self-defense, a crime that belongs to the wider offense of manslaughter. While a video shows the victim punching the counselor, authorities still don’t know what happened before or what led to the shooting.
For now, Massimo Adriatici is on house arrest because the authorities believe is at risk of repeating the crime -and even contaminating evidence. While he had the permit to carry a gun, the process is doubtful. And so is the concept of self-defense, which politicians change to their advantage. One thing is certain: no one checks on Italian gun owners. Just like no one checks on crimes like forced marriage.