GunSpotting in Rome

About a month ago I spent some time in Italy, and noticed a few things that I thought would be interesting. The biggest thing that stood out to me (on the matter of firearms, I should say) was that while civilian gun ownership is far lower than it is here in the US, one actually sees armed military on a regular basis in a way that seems strange and alien to an American. We expect to see police officers with sidearms, but not rifle-armed military patrols on the street – which is a regular part of your day in a city like Rome or Milan. Scattered throughout the city (mostly in areas with lots or tourist traffic) you will see pairs of soldiers in full kit, typically with a Land Rover; “Operation Safe Streets” (Operazione Strade Secure) painted on its doors.

These guys are in camo fatigues, with armor vests, a couple spare mags, a pistol in a low flap holster, and a rifle. The rifle may be a Beretta ARX-160 or an older AR70/90. By the way, they don’t want you to take photos, so I had to be a bit sneaky to get these…

Italian soldier in Rome with an ARX-160
Italian Alpini in Rome with an ARX-160 carbine and Aimpoint
Italian soldiers with Beretta 70/90 rifles
Italian soldiers in Milan with Beretta 70/90 rifles

The other long arm that you can expect to see around the cities of Italy is the Beretta Model 12S submachine gun, typically in the hands of the Carabinieri at important buildings (I wasn’t able to get a photo of one of those; sorry). The basic breakdown is that the local city police carry pistols (looked like Beretta 92s and Beretta PX4s), the Carabinieri (more or less national police) carry those plus Models 12s, and the Esercito Italiano (Army) carry handguns and rifles. There are also the Finance Police (customs and such), but I only saw their cars and not any actual patrols.


While in Rome, I spent a full day walking the city visiting as many gun-related shops as I could find, and what I found was a division of shops into two basic types: gun stores and police/military supply stores. The gun shops were quite good, with a pretty wide variety of guns including sporting shotguns, hunting rifles, black rifles, modern handguns, revolvers, and older surplus-type rifles. The military supply shops basically sold patches and 5-11 Tactical clothing, plus things like modern MOLLE backpacks and tactical gloves. No vintage or surplus gear – in fact I was unable to find anything like that at all.

The specific shops I visited were:

  • Articoli Civili E Militari Bellettati (Via Giovanni Amendola, 91/93)– This was the best of the military supply shops that I found. They had a good selection of police type gear (boots, gloves, batons, etc) as well as tons of patches. Nothing vintage or antique, and no firearms. The staff spoke minimal English. I was able to make my one militaria purchase here; an Alpini hat. I wanted to get something that would be a good addition to upcoming Carcano videos, and that was the best option. It’s a modern one, but the style hasn’t really changed in a very long time.
  • Militalia Store Roma (Via Leone IV, 117)- The closest things they had to interesting was some modern (and expensive) camo fatigues. Otherwise just commercial tactical boots, gloves, and – of course – lots of patches.
  • Fomisa (I can’t find their web site, if they have one – the address is Via XX Settembre 117) – Nothing here but a bunch of patches. Stopped in, took a quick glance around, and left.

Okay, now for the better stuff – the actual gun shops…

  • First up, Beretta. At least, if you scour Google Maps for gun shops in Rome, it will give you a result for Beretta. I tracked it down, only to find that it’s a local administrative office and not any sort of retail operation. So don’t bother with that one.
  • Armeria Frinchillucci (Via Barberini, 31)- This was the biggest shop I found, with two large rooms and a better selection than plenty of US gun shops. In addition to handguns and long guns, they also had a wide array of slings, holsters, ammo, magazines, etc. The staff was friendly and helpful, and spoke reasonably good English. A couple specific items I noticed included a Fed Ord M1A for 1200 Euro, and a couple Browning High Powers (rebarreled to .30 Luger) for about 300.
  • Armeria Zaccherini (Via Fabio Massimo, 59)- This shop was substantially smaller, but literally piled high with all sorts of stuff. The long gun racks included a surprising number of surplus type rifles, including a Garand, a couple Mausers, a Carcano, and an Arisaka. It would be a pretty decent small shop by American standards. The staff spoke a bit of English; enough to communicate. They were a bit standoffish (which I completely understand as a foreign visitor to a gun shop) until the 12-year-old boy shopping there at the time with his father recognized me and proceeded to tell the clerks all sorts of things about my work, with lots of videos on his phone as supporitng evidence. Thanks, Vittorio! 🙂
  • Picciati Armi Antiche (no web site here; address is Via di Priscilla, 39) – This shop was recommended to me as a place to see antiques, as opposed to modern-production guns – and I was told the owner is a lady who is extremely knowledgable. Unfortunately, when I arrived they were closed for the day to do inventory and my complete lack of Italian language skills precluded me from persuading my way in. Looking at the inventory through the windows, it appears to be all pre-cartridge guns.

67 Comments

  1. Love the first guy’s hat!
    I got pretty accustomed to seeing these type guys all over Europe, while living in Greece, Turkey, and Scotland for eight years, and biz-traveling to England, Italy, Spain, and Germany. I remember wondering, “Do I really feel more secure?”

  2. I was at the last Bruce Springsteen show in Madrid (Spain), on May, and the police were carring HK G36k rifles and HK USP pistols

  3. Hi Ian, there is a gun store in the Beretta facility that you visited but it’s mainly shotguns and clothing. Plus they have a custom shop where you can have a shotgun custom ‘fitted’ to you personally… If you have the money 😉

    Cheers,

    Vic

  4. “black rifles”
    What is that? Any rifle made from steel and later oxidized or something other?

    “These guys are in camo fatigues”
    I found fact that they by using camouflage become more visible (easier to spot) paradox – main objective of camouflage is to be spotted as late as possible.
    I’m not uniform expert – does any forces use or used special urban camouflage uniforms. I know that British forces stationed in West Berlin painted Chieftain tanks in special pattern – rectangle with colors appropriate to Berlin buildings, see photos here:
    http://www.emlra.org/index.php/articles/berlin-brigade-urban-paint-scheme

    • The term started with M16 – because it was all black. Nowadays its used for older m16 (A1/A2), or more generally for any Ar-15, or even any modern military rifle, which is a bit too diluted i think. For me, Black rifle is M16.

    • I suspect that a good part of the purpose in actually having the troops in question stick out like a sore thumb in an urban environment is based on the concept of visual ( and psychological ) deterrence, as well as providing the general public with a very prominent visual cue ( which is psychologically quite reassuring ) of perceived security. All of which, of course, is fine and well — except that a truly professional and hard-headed enemy would see right through this guise and not be in the least bit disturbed by it when planning a public terrorist action. In fact, the easily-visible opposition could be used to advantage by the would-be terrorists in planning an appropriate course of action. And anyone who would be at this level of situational awareness would also be equally sensitive to the possibility of more cleverly disguised and subtle back-up forces merged into the civilian crowd and allow for it in their planning.

      • Simply, the recent events in Paris, Tunisia, or even several mass killings in the US, showed the killers/terrorists being able to simply walk and shoot freely for many minutes, even half an hour, without having to resort to any finely prepared plan, first than the Police had been able to gather enough forces to confront them.
        The soldiers in the pictures serve to have that force already there, where, due to the tourists density, to have a terrorist free to operate for some minutes means to have hundreds of victims.

  5. Sound like a great trip, thanks for the summary. Now to the main: those Italians are awfully damn stylish! That Alpine hat on the first pictured soldier is too cool for school!

  6. “Tante Grazie” for a great report Ian. It’s been 20 yrs since I’ve been to Italy but even back then lots of military fully decked out seemed to be everywhere. The only exception I recall was Vatican City. There I recall only Swiss Guard in their historical uni’s and police in blue with sidearms. I have a memory of Rome airport seeing a drop dead goregous woman in a tight Carabinieri tactical jumpsuit, red lipstick, holding the meanest looking weapon I’d ever seen. I didn’t stop to strike up a conversation. 😉

  7. Ian, I’m curious whether you saw any military or law enforcement with bomb sniffing dogs working any crowds or lines of people?

  8. That’s so cool that you have that kind of recognition amongst the gun community, even in Italy! That kid was probably so stoked!

  9. If the Roman cops with guns are camera shy, I hear that certain police armed with halberds, swords, and pikes don’t seem to mind being photographed at all.

    It’s certainly the opposite of the mindset in England and Ireland, where police are generally unarmed, and proud of it.

    regarding “civilian gun ownership” – I don’t know what kind of firearm restrictions Italy has, but I’m going to assume that “modern military calibers” are probably banned, as in much of the rest of the world.

    • I didn’t get to the Vatican at all, although I was staying pretty close to it. The insane lines and the horde of obnoxious street vendors pushing all manner of dubious tickets and tours drove me away.

    • If I remember correctly from years ago, our (now ancient?) British magazines like Guns Review and Handgunner reported that civilians were not allowed to own “current military calibres” in Italy, which lead to funny things like the .30 Luger HiPowers that Ian saw. I think there were also reports of a special “civilian” 9x21mm pistol cartridge for things like the Beretta 92.

      • Well… what matters is the kind of weapon, not the ammunition. Civilians cannot use automatic weapons. the 9×21 mm round is meant for civilians, while 9×19 mm can be used by the army and the police (both civilian and military police). This restriction exists so that round fired by police can be easily distinguished from those fired by civilians

      • derek, it’s legally complicated… for example 7.62×51 and 5.56 are banned, but 308 and 223 are not. you just have to buy them with a different name.

        • For a while, Ruger made the Mini-14 in .222 Remington specifically for sale in Italy. And most Continental pistol manufacturers had at least one model of their standard 9 x 19m service pistols in .30 Luger, 9 x 21mm, or both.

          Slightly OT but related; in 1991, Ruger made a run of Speed-Six DA revolvers with 3″ barrels for the Indian national police- in .380in Revolver aka .38 S&W.

          That had been their standard cartridge in Webley MK IV and Enfield revolvers since the 1940s, and that was what they had plant to manufacture ammunition-wise. Since the Webleys and Enfields were getting a bit long in the tooth, they ordered Rugers in their standard caliber.

          cheers

          eon

        • “for example 7.62×51 and 5.56 are banned, but 308 and 223 are not.”
          .308 Winchester was used to create many various cartridge by necking-up or necking-down, so in places where .308 is no-no cartridges like 7mm-08 (probably closest to .308 from standardized cartridges) might be solutions.
          Notice that some cartridge are created specially to full-fill law requirements, for example German 5,6×57 RWS was created because German hunting law says that some animals can be hunted with cartridge which has 1000 J at distance of 100 m (if I remember correctly)

          • In Finland the 8.2×53R and 9.3×53R were created by necking up the 7.62×54R spesifically for hunting elk. A 1933 statute stipulated that the minimum caliber for hunting elk is 8mm, so a large number of Mosin-Nagants were converted to those calibers and otherwise sporterized as well. Some M1895 Winchesters as well, although luckily those conversions seem to have been fairly rare. The statute has since been changed, but a fairly large number of those rifles are still around.

          • EW;

            Indiana has a similar law, that restricts deer rifles to caliber over .357in and cartridge case length no more than 1.8in head to case mouth. The intent was to allow “pistol caliber” lever-actions and single shots such as .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. Originally, the length restriction was 1.6in, but it was changed in 2011 apparently to allow the 1.78in long .500 S&W.

            The result was predictable. There are now half-a-dozen “wildcat” and proprietary rifle rounds with names like .358 Indiana, .358 Hoosier, etc. All of which are basically shortened .308s or whatever necked up to take .358in bullets as in .358 Winchester.

            They not only outperform pistol rounds out of rifle-length barrels, with modern powders they match or exceed the performance of older rifle rounds in the same bore sizes, much like the modern crop of “Short Magnum” and “Super Short Magnum” belted rounds.

            As Jeff Cooper said, silly laws promote transparent evasions. And lawmakers who don’t understand ballistics shouldn’t try to legislate on the subject of bore sizes and case lengths.

            cheers

            eon

          • “rifles to caliber over .357in(…)length restriction(…)1.6in”
            This points me to Russian 9×39 cartridge:
            https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/9_×_39_мм
            It has 9,26mm bullet (~.364) and 39mm long case (~1.54″) so it fits nicely. Firearms chambered for 7.62×39 should be ease to rework to this cartridge. Does anybody has similar idea to make Indiana-compliant cartridge – i.e. to mate 7.62×39 case with bigger bullet?

            8×68mm S query in Wikipedia states that:
            certain sub-Saharan Africa countries have a 9 mm (0.354 in), 9.2 or 9.3 mm (0.362 or 0.366 in) or 9.53 mm (0.375 in) minimum caliber requirement for hunting dangerous Big Five game
            I would appreciate list of countries with information about limitations

        • Back in the day, some of the UK police forces were much easier going if you applied to have a “.308”, instead of a “7.62”, on your Firearms Certificate – because they new the latter was a military calibre.

  10. Ian
    I got in deep doodoo for taking a picture of two armed military police in Spain (Catalan). they where in the road and when they saw me shoot the pic they grabbed there mp5s and headed my way and started yelling in Spanish I stated I was American and I understand enough to realize they where saying stupid American !
    he then leaned in the car and said don’t take pictures of police or military police in spain OK!

  11. Traveling in Latin America, I always keep a “machine gun” index…

    Mexico is very, very high. Galils in Jalisco, ARs, M16s, G3s, heavier weapons, MP5s, an Uzi, many shotguns and carbines…
    Brazil is very high. ARs/M16s, the 5.56mm IMBEL, FAL, handguns, etc.
    Colombia is high. Galils, and even a mini-Uzi.
    Spain is medium.– shotguns at demonstrations, HK36 for the Policía Nacional except at the U.S. embassy,
    still a CETME 7.62mm, Guadia Civil, and the regular city cops.
    Uruguay is medium–even bomberos/firemen have an armed guard outside the station.
    Cuba is low, although one sees police everywhere with PMs and batons, Kalashnikovs at army posts and bases, the odd Stetchkin-packing MININT official, armored car guards with box magazine-fed shotguns, etc. etc.

  12. Hi, just a quick fact. Carabinieri are part of the army and they police both civilians and military personnel. This is why they are equipped with automatic (and military-grade) weapons. Polizia, instead, is the civilian police and, as civilians, they cannot employ automatic weapons (there might be exceptions, but I don’t know). Still, it is a bit scary when the regular army acts as a police force

    • The PM12S SMG is ubiquitous among the Italian Police forces, The Carabinieri, Polizia, Polizia Penitenziaria (prison officers), Guardia di Finanza (economic/financial crime police and border control) all use it.
      However the Carabinieri are not the “regular army”, they were born, as a police force, serves as military police too, but are separated from the rest of the armed forces.

    • Not exactly.

      The Carabinieri WERE a part of the Army, commanded by an Army General, to avoid coups.

      Recently (2010, IIRC) they were reorganised as a separate Armed service, on the same level of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

      The Guardia di Finanza remained a part of the Army.

      It’s interesting that the Carabinieri depends on the Ministry of Defense, the Home Ministry, the Foreign Ministry for the Embassy details, the Ministry of Health for the NAS, and the Ministry of Beaux Arts.

      The Guardia di Finanza depends on the Ministry of Defense, the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury…

  13. Great report Ian. That is really cool that someone recognized you and it opened people up a bit. Hope you had a great time.

      • That is a shame.
        Well done for trying though.
        It would have been interesting to see something of their operation and learn about their history and philosophy.

        • Forgot to say, I was getting back into guns and reading up on Ghissoni’s patents, just about the time that poor Ghisoni died, otherwise I would have loved to have tried to meet him. I was married to an Italian speaker (she doesn’t speak gun) at the time, and was in Northern Italy a couple of times a year.

          PS
          Well done young Vittorio, vouching for you!

  14. I remember attending an armorers course in Israel at IMI’s factory (now IWI) back in 1984 (wow, I’m getting old) where we were taught how to repair UZI’s, Galil’s, and Desert Eagle pistols as the UK distributor (back then I was the armourer). The Italian distributor had ‘special’ versions of each type in ‘civilian’ calibers. 9x21mm for UZI’s, ‘222″ for Galil’s. If I recall, the .357″ & .44″ Desert Eagle were OK ‘as is’

  15. Its very unsettling for a country that is not officially at war to have soldiers on the streets, especially if you are tourist attraction.

    • This had been part of picture for some time. I recall seeing soldiers(in pictures, for most part) in streets of Paris and elsewhere in France at least some 5 years back. It did not prevent tragedy in last Fall. You have to wonder what is true purpose for the show of force.

    • Btw, I could not put myself into mind of those guys. Their visibility makes them more of target if anything else. No purpose to serve in my mind.

      • They’re mainly to “reassure” the public. Myself, I’d expect any terrorist with at least one synapse working would kill the uniformed authority type first and take his weapon, etc.

        A really smart one would intercept one or more enroute to their duty post(s), eliminate them and take their place- in uniform and armed.

        cheers (?)

        eon

        • There has been tons of articles written on the topic mainly in out-of-mainstream press. In several last cases security services knew perpetrators beforehand and yet were not able to prevent them from carrying their acts. If any effective (preventative) measures are to be taken, they have to be covert. State has all technical means and measures to its disposal. This is apparently for public show, as you write.

          • I don’t think the paramilitary police presence throughout Europe has much if anything to do with modern-day terrorism. “Beat” cops have been armed with assault rifles for decades, and as I understand it, primarily for the purpose of making a visual statement since the forced “regime change” at the end of WWII. After more than a half-century, it seems the recent encroachment of Middle-East terrorism has finally given them a reason to exist.

          • Police armed with SMGs or assault rifles are a rare sight in the Nordic countries. Regular uniformed cops carry sidearms only. In larger cities they might have an SMG in the vehicle, but they are rarely seen. Mostly one sees police with SMGs only during important international political meetings around the conference locations.

          • aa: Of course, old style terrorism vs. the more modern and perhaps even more indiscriminate variant did encourage caliber changes among European PDs from, say, 7.65mm to 9mm and so on…

            Decades ago in Vienna’s Judengasse, attacked by the Abu Nidal organization, there were Austrian counter-terror forces and CCTVs. The parapolice or soldiers all had Stgw.77 Steyr AUGs.

            Also decades ago, Frankfurt airport had guys with MP5s strolling around.

          • Back in 1990, it actually came out that the supposedly left wing terrorism in Italy and the rest of western Europe, was an inside job, by parallel structures within the state and within NATO.

            The train station and piazza bombings, the murders of cops and even of a former prime minister had all been false flags

            This 3-part series exposes the clandestine ‘stay-behind’ operation sponsored by the CIA and NATO to counter communist influence after World War II in Italy, as well as in other European countries. The Gladio network of operatives is alleged to have been involved in various acts of terrorism, trying to influence policies through the means of ‘false flag’ operations.

            https://archive.org/details/operationgladio

            This is not conspiracy “theory”, it is historical fact, investigated by the Italian parliament after about 1990.

            Nevertheless, the fully armed paramilitary police are still standing around the corner from the train stations.

          • @Keith
            You are correct; threat of communism in Italy since early after WWII had been rampant and directly threatened hegemony of NATO in that part of Europe. This was even before commencement of Palestinian acts of violence abroad (such as Achille Lauro kidnapping and so on).

            There was immense popularity of CP of Italy and many of working class were members; it was like revisiting 1920s but even in more radical form. Traditionally mayor of Rome for many years was CP member. This certainly was causing lots of worries on other side of Atlantic and “something” had to be done. Thus Gladio took place. But, it is also true that real, homeborn terrorism was real and threat of serious proportion, although not as deep rooted as Mafia.

            What happen with Aldo Moro (as you mentioned) is not a fiction and this and other despicable acts were conducted by Brigadi Rosi. At the end it probably did not strengthen Italian democracy, but long and persistent effort paid off in elimination of that scourge.

  16. The UK police has to keep an eye on about 3.000 terrorist suspects, the French need to watch 10.000 and Italy has probably the same numbers (next to the usual maffioso). They don’t have the manpower for that and so they do this. Nice pics though!

    • I hated hip extenders in tac training. They make it very easy for someone to grab the sidearm from behind you and use it on you, even with the coiled lanyard.

      They also make it easy to catch the release getting in or out of a vehicle and dump the weapon on the floor or on the ground. They’re also a PITA going through narrow doorways, windows, etc.

      The major reason for them officially is clearing the lower skirting of a tactical vest. Actually, a police-type hard holster with a jacket standoff works better for that, and keeps the weapon up above your hipbone where it belongs.

      The real reason for the hip extender is that “everybody uses it”. And “everybody” started using it because it looked cool and “tactical”.

      NB: I’ve never carried a sidearm “strong side” in any holster that hung the grip lower than the belt. Period. I even put my U.S. Army issue 1911 holster on the web belt using the slots in back instead of the wire hanger.

      Mostly, I’ve always used an FBI rake behind the hip. Which is probably the best all-around holster position there is, inspired by the Trimble/Myers holster for the single-action Colt Peacemaker, circa 1930s.

      cheers

      eon

  17. When you are recognized by a 12 year old –
    – halfway around the world,
    – you, sir, have ARRIVED.
    Your tireless, never-ending, quest to create THE reference site for obscure firearm, has brought you some well deserved international recognition.
    If the bombs don’t drop, and the asteroid doesn’t come, this priceless collection of information will likely be a go-to reference, recreated in each new data format that comes, for centuries. Your contribution to the preservation of firearms history is extremely significant and hugely appreciated.
    Thanks Ian.

  18. Ian,

    If you ever get the chance, take a look at Austrian gunshops. There’s some fascinating stuff in them. In particular in one backstreet gunshop in Villach, I saw a wonderful vierling. Four barreled gun. It sounds cumbersome, but it was beautifully put together. There were two shotgun barrels, one medium bore rifle barrel, and one small bore rifle barrel. I’m guessing they were two 12 gauge barrels, one 7mm and one 22.

    • Hi Jeremy, it’s a small world… I used to visit Villach several times a year with my paying job (semiconductors) and know that shop well! He has had quite a bit of interesting inventory over the years. I always thought it amusing that you can buy Glock frames as spare parts with all internals fitted without any paperwork or checks in their gunstores! Slides and barrels were restricted though… the polar opposite of the USA!

  19. in Rome, others gunshops: max Armi, via Vetulonia, http://www.maxarmi.it Delven, Rosati armi Via Barrett Browning (yes, was Ms Elisabeth Barret Browning) Delta Point. ecc Is not inusual the use of armed forces in support to law officers here in Italy. We have civilian Polizia di stato (State Police) and Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (Customs and Financial police) that have MILITARY STATUR like the Army. The 223 and 308 are allowed only in long guns like other military calibers, for sporting and hunbting use (law 2 april 1975 art 2) , the handgun in 9×19 are banned, but 9×21 is equal, 40 45 357 ecc allowed. Fron 2010 (law 204/2010 ) long arms in 9×19 are allowed

  20. The other day in the middle of nowhere in SW France I was at a carboot sale
    I turned around and there were 3 young gendarmes none over 23 years old
    They were dessed in skyblue brand new uniforms a very I am here colour
    Two of them had the new sig pistols but the thrd had a HK UMP with a fully loaded mag in 9mm
    At first I thought they were modern reinacters they looked so clean and neat but my daughter who lives down in Pau says they often see them at taffic circles as they come off the autoroute

  21. Just a minor note, but those Hi-Powers are not rebarreled. A handful were produced in .30 Luger specifically for the Italian civilian market – I’ve been looking for a nice example for a while.

  22. BTW, the organisation of the patrols has changed slightly.

    There are now a Carabiniere, to give full police powers to the patrol, which a simple Army patrol would not have, an Army NCO with a pistol, billy club but WITHOUT the ARX-160, and two Army privates WITH rifle, pistol and club.

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