July 30, 2023
While in “The Capital of the World” (Rome), I recently had the opportunity to visit the Eternal City’s largest gun store. While replete with guns you wouldn’t see in your average American gun store, the store felt more like something I’d see in my native Ohio, than a European country with “strict” gun laws like most American gun enthusiasts would expect.
While touring the store, and after gawking at the AR-15s with shorter-than 16-inch barrels, I got to talk to one of the employees of Armeria Frinchillucci, Fabio Pellegrini. An attendee of many a Shot Show, we both shared the same passion for guns on opposite sides of the globe, and he was delighted to talk with me about Italian firearms regulations, and ownership in the Italian Republic. While there are about 500 gun stores in all of Italy, Fabio explained to me that his was one of the largest, and accordingly, in possession of the largest of three classes of gun store licenses the Italian government doles out, of which, entitles his store to keep the most amount of guns the state allows. He also specifically mentioned the Armeria dal Balcon, a large gun store with the same license located in Vicenza, a much smaller city located in the north of Italy in the Veneto region, say, an hour west of Venice.
I was impressed with the amount of vintage handguns available, and at quite reasonable prices as well, in the €200-300 range, or ~$220-330 USD. Of course, seeing as this was Europe, most of the old handguns hailed from Italy, Germany, and Austria, but the cabinets also featured a good deal of Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers from back home. Many of the Italian handguns were Berettas, whose headquarters was about a four-hour train ride north, in Brescia, the Lombardy region (my father, Editor-in-Chief Vincent L. DeNiro, worked for Beretta USA for seven years). The Beretta models 34 and 35, both of World War II fame, were in abundance in the shop, as were variants of the Beretta Cheetah, among others. An Italian rarity in the United States, there were quite a few Bernardelli pistols, mostly Model 47s and with extended barrels for sport shooting. A case for Walther pistols featured many members of the PP family, and even a very James Bond-esque gold Cerakote PPK.
Other rarities I saw include the Frommer Stop, and Steyr M1912, World War I-era classics of Austro-Hungarian origin. These two handguns shared a shelf replete with FN Browning pocket pistols, some as cheap as €95 (~$104), as well as a Unique (Yes, that’s its proper name) RR51 Police issue, a French handgun in service with French police from 1951. Until 1998, the guns were made in Hendaye, the south westernmost town in France, at the foothills of the Pyrennes. Indeed, a “unique” handgun, it was priced at €199 (~$217).
Above the shelf, higher-end variants of the Colt M1911, namely the Colt MK IV and Colt Delta Elite in .40 could be had in the neighborhood of €800 (~$875). For those looking to spend less, the same shelf featured a Norinco-made copy of an M1911 and Spanish-made Franchi Llama for €299 (~$330). Unlike in the United States, Norinco-made firearms can still be imported from China in Italy.
Seeing as I was in the birthplace of the Spaghetti Western, it was not surprising to see two 1860 Colt Single Action Armies, both reproductions made by Uberti S.A., an Italian company known for their faithful reproductions of cowboy lever-guns and six-shooters from the days of Westward Expansion. The revolvers were priced at €215 (~$235). Several double-barreled shotguns filled an entire gun case, of both the over-and-under and side-by-side variety, obviously made for hunting, a popular pastime among well-to-do Italians. Benelli hunting shotguns filled several other cases. They were in the ~€775-1500 range (~$845-1,640). Another case housed seven lever guns, with a variety of different wood furnishings, and one with very attractive bluing, which caught my eye.
An FN FAL had its own case, complete with a bayonet, sheath, and several magazines. I also saw two Italian-made “plinkers” that are not what they may seem at first glance. The first was an AP-74; an M16-looking .22 LR rifle (my dad has one) and second rifle, this one appearing to be a scoped Mauser was a SDM 98k, a .22 LR bolt gun made to look like a German Mauser Karabiner 98k. They were priced at €199 and €299, (~$220 and ~$325) respectively. Keeping with the theme of .22 LR, an original ArmaLite AR-7 was standing next to the SDM 98k. It was priced at €499 (~$550), about what my dad paid for one last year. Next to it was a British No. 4 Lee-Enfield, in rather good condition. Above the gun cases, an M1 Carbine, and Beretta Modello 38 submachine gun mounted on the wall, ostensibly for decoration. Although, it is legal to own machine-guns converted to semi-auto (more on that later).
Ruger and Winchester .22 LR rifles have always been popular here in the States, and that seemed to be no-less the case than in Italy. Four .22 LR Winchester and Ruger rifles were advertised with a small American flag at the bottom of their case. A variety of several Glocks from neighboring Austria occupied two shelves. A surprising sight, a Shadow Systems DR920 (listed as Shadow “Sistem” in Italian) shared the shelf with the Glocks.
Two Nagants, both the rifle and pistol, were on the top shelf of the cabinet shared with Colt and S&W revolvers with a Mauser Karabiner 98k, several flare guns and flintlock pistols. The Mosin, in good condition, could be had for €495 (~$540). The new Beretta PMX-S was available as well and advertised at €1,749 (~$1,900). One glass case featured five Luger variants, four of which were made by Mauser. These were for high-rolling collectors, with the most expensive priced at € 8,470.00 (~$9,250). Another interesting sight, the store also was selling a Diamondback Firearms DB15, with a 12.5-inch barrel and collapsible stock, not an arm brace, a stock. As I sort-of alluded to earlier, what would be a short-barreled rifle in the United States is just a regular rifle in Italy, as long as the barrel is not under 12 ½ inches. The rifle came complete with several accessories and was advertised with a mix of Italian and English for €1,399 (~$1,530).
There was also a firing belt-fed FN M-249S semi-auto on display along with some Ruger Mini-14s, Springfield Armory M1A, and AR-10, and a Tavor for sale. MSRs are not an uncommon sight at Italian gun shops.
Now, Fabio told me many pleasantly surprising facts about Italian gun laws. Firstly, Italy does not have the concept of “state’s rights”, which lately for gun owners, has been mostly a one-way street, and an excuse to strip gun rights away from citizens in states like Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and California, among others. This means, Italy’s firearm laws are uniform throughout the entire country, from the Alps of Tyrol in the north to the “toe” of Calabria, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily (Italy has 20 regions and 110 provinces). Traveling with a gun in your car is also legal, provided you keep the ammo and gun locked up, and separate from one another. You could then travel the length of the Italian Peninsula without having to disarm yourself when entering a city or different province, as you would if you were say, traveling to New England from the Midwest and gambling your freedom by driving through the police state of New York, which ignores the 1986 Firearms Owner Protection Act which was/is supposed to safeguard the 2nd Amendment while traveling through liberal states, with firearms.
Changes to firearm laws have also been infrequent, according to Fabio, the last change was about eight years ago, when the European Union loosened firearms restrictions after conducting studies that concluded gun crime was in decline. Unlike over a dozen liberal US states “with” a 2nd Amendment, there are no “assault weapons” bans here – no issues with folding stocks, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, flash hiders, and the like. In Italy, the regulations of firearms are left to the Italian parliament and European Union law, the latter is not always followed to a “t”. Unlike the United States, Italy does not have an extrajudicial bureau effectively dictating new firearms legislation by changing the definitions of what certain guns are or are not (think ATF and bump-stocks or arm braces). There is also not a large gun-grabbing narrative or anti-gun lobby present in Italian politics and society.
Of course, there are drawbacks to Italian gun laws, namely, many of the things that are “effectively” illegal in the United States, are outright illegal. Before talking about what is illegal, let’s briefly look at what you must first do to obtain a firearm. Unfortunately, there is no right to bear or own arms in Italy. Basically, you must have a clearance from a physician that you are not mentally disabled and/or have violent tendencies. The local police will check criminal records for domestic abuse and assault. You also have to pass a written firearms test (which is in Italian so if you are an American with dual citizenship, you must be fluent in the language – no English version available). There are also different licenses for hunting, sport shooting, and collecting.
Now for the “illegal” items. For instance, while in many cases machine guns are increasingly and prohibitively expensive and heavily restricted in the United States, they are still technically legal, so long as they are made before May 19th, 1986. This is not the case in Italy, where machine guns are outright illegal for civilian purchase. However, there are some legal owners of machineguns in Italy who were grandfathered before machinegun ownership was restricted in the 1970s. It is legal to own full autos which have been converted to semi-auto as long as the open-bolts are converted to closed-bolt configuration (some older open bolt semi-autos made many decades ago have been grandfathered in). No “once a machinegun, always a machinegun” ATF philosophy here. Unfortunately, suppressors are totally illegal, not just restricted like in the United States, but there is a push to make them legal.
Guns with ammo larger than .50 calibre (caliber) are also illegal, there’s no registering them as a destructive device and paying a tax stamp, they are plainly illegal (but, better off than some US states, like California, which even banned .50 BMG with “Republican” Gov. Schwarzenegger’s signature). Magazines over 29 rounds are also not sold by every store. The odd number of 29 is due to an unintended technicality in the regulations, which “restricted” guns from having more than 30 rounds, because a closed-bolt gun with a 30-round magazine would technically be able to hold 31 rounds with one in the chamber. However, this does not mean no 100-round Beta magazines. The law does not actually outrightly ban magazines over 29 rounds, but many shops do not want to “upset” the Ministry of the Interior, so they don’t offer them.
Wine is a big part of Italian food culture but driving after having a bit too much can jeopardize your firearms license. This is because after a first criminal offence, the law’s first response is usually to take the offender's guns (depending on the severity of a driving under the influence conviction, this can be the case in some US states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, although it usually only lasts for a one-year punishment period.) Perhaps it’s too harsh, but guns have been taken away for less grievous offences here. Self-defense is legal in Italy, although it has to be proportional. That is, if you’re attacked with a knife and you shoot your attacker dead, you may be into some trouble. While this may be nonsensical, as a knife can make someone just as dead as a gun can, proportional self-defense is the law of the land for much of Europe. Although some sources have stated that obtaining a concealed carry handgun license in Italy has gotten a bit easier in recent years, Fabio made the comment that it is very difficult to obtain. Personally, Fabio is happy with the gun laws in Italy, while he said he admires the United States many freedoms, he is content where his country stands right now especially since Italy has not been so “free” with gun ownership in the past.
If you are ever in Rome, stop by and see Fabio, his store address and other contact information can be found at Frinchillucci.it. For more information about Italian gun ownership and laws, Firearms News writer Pierangelo Tendas wrote some extensive articles on the subject including Italian Gun Laws: How Do They Compare to the U.S.? which is available at FirearmsNews.com.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated with new information on 8/7/23]
About the Author
Vincent David DeNiro (“Junior”) is the son of Editor-in-Chief Vincent L. DeNiro. He is currently an undergraduate student studying history and Spanish. He mostly writes history-related articles and has been responsible for filming some of the Firearms News content his father appeared in. Research from his articles have been used to teach South American history at Kent State University. Aside from writing, he also restores cars, collects watches, enjoys European firearms, studies philosophy and likes to travel.
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