Vital Signs

Gianni, Get Your Gun

One of the most important reasons for the sweeping victory of Silvio Berlusconi and his House of Liberty in the recent Italian election was concern for public safety, which ranks as the number-one issue on the minds of voters, according to some polls. Berlusconi promised to do whatever was necessary to make people feel safer, and his platform affirmed that

Safety of the people, preservation of their security and protection of their goods, is the basis of the contract between citizenry and institutions, without whom the government loses its historical and moral legitimacy.

Public safety is leading some Italians to rediscover the virtue of people's ability to protect themselves.

An online poll conducted by Publiweb (a major Italian web portal) asked, "Is it legitimate to defend one's property with guns?" Fifty-nine percent said "si," while 36 percent would allow the use of firearms only in an extreme emergency. A mere three percent categorically rejected the use of firearms for the defense of property.

Italian citizens do not enjoy a constitutional right to bear arms, and, unlike in the Commonwealth countries, there is no common-law tradition, either. Purchase of a firearm requires a police license and registration. As of 1996, there were 757,240 people licensed to possess shotguns for hunting purposes.

Handgun permits are much harder...

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