Italian Newspaper Boasts How Hard It Is to Buy a Gun in Italy

A shop attendant holds a pistol at a guns shop in Naples, southern Italy, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006. Provoking protests, Italian lawmakers Tuesday approved a self-defense bill allowing citizens to use guns and other weapons to protect their property at home or at work as well as to save their …
AP/Salvatore Laporta

Whereas in the United States, a background check is sufficient to purchase a firearm, in Italy several more steps are required, boasts an article Saturday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

In theory, any Italian citizen without a criminal record, psychiatric problems or dependence on alcohol and drugs, has the right to purchase and own a weapon after the verification of records, the article explains.

As with all things Italian, however, the hoop-jumping doesn’t end here. As the state police website specifies, once a weapon or ammunition is acquired, the owner is obliged to report the purchase at police headquarters. At this time, the gun owner must also explain where the firearm is to be stored.

Corriere della Sera was motivated to write the piece after a story appeared in the New York Times earlier this week, which compared requirements for firearm purchases in fifteen different countries.

The article declared that after the United States, the country with the highest gun ownership rate is Yemen. While Yemeni law obliges buyers to purchase guns from licensed dealers and register with the authorities, the law is broadly ignored.

Countries like Russia that impose a series of steps prior to the purchase of a firearm are often plagued by black market gun sales, which allow gun buyers to get around the onerous process.

Russian law requires that prospective gun owners first obtain a hunting license, or submit an explanation of why they need a gun for self-defense. Next one must pass a test of regarding gun laws, handling of firearms and first-aid skills. Third, one must obtain a doctor’s certificate declaring that the candidate has no mental illness or history of drug abuse. Fourth, the aspiring gun owner must attend a firearm safety and handling class and pass an exam. Once these four steps are completed, the candidate may apply for a license. Only when the license is obtained can one finally ask for a background check.

As a result, there are an estimated three times as many illegal guns in Russia as legal guns, meaning that law enforcement has even less an idea who owns firearms and who doesn’t.

Gun ownership varies from country to country, but doesn’t always follow a predictable pattern. Switzerland, for instance, a small, peaceable country known for its neutrality, has the fourth highest per capita firearm ownership in the world, with 45.7 guns per 100 citizens.

The United States is almost unique in its enshrinement of the right to bear arms in its Constitution. Only Mexico and Guatemala assert a constitutional right to gun ownership similar to that of the United States, and even these have been significantly restricted.

The 1857 Mexican Constitution guaranteed that “every man has the right to keep and to carry arms for his security and legitimate defense” but legislators amended the constitution in 1917 to make it more difficult for citizens to buy and own guns. The new constitution radically rolled back citizens’ rights, and stripped the churches of their right to own property, eventually leading to the bloody Cristero War.

The American founders considered the second amendment an important corrective to overreaching and tyrannical government, and in Federalist No. 46, published in 1788, James Madison laid out some of the rationale behind the amendment.

Even if the federal government were to send its military against its own people, he argued, the armed citizenry of the United States would be able to repel it.

Madison derided the “kingdoms of Europe,” whose governments were “afraid to trust the people with arms,” while assuring his fellow citizens that they need not fear their government because of “the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”

Known as the Father of the Constitution, it was Madison who drafted the original version of the Bill of Rights, which included the people’s right to “keep and bear arms.”

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