Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a patient I’ll call Mario. He was a ministerial employee, happily married, and totally nuts. Under his façade of normality lay a vast web of paranoid delusions that linked his family, the Church, and both Cold War antagonists in a delicate equilibrium. All through the 1980s I prescribed antipsychotic medication under supervision, and he did just fine. But when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the web no longer held, the balance wobbled, the web fell apart, and Mario snapped. He first confessed vague violent fantasies, then disappeared from treatment, only to resurface in prison, after stabbing his cousin.
What reminded me of Mario in these last weeks was the rather similar story of Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida mass murderer. Both were deeply disturbed, both were armed, both were obsessed with fantasies of violence, and in both cases outside events – in Cruz’s case the death of his mother, in Mario’s the end of the Soviet empire – cut whatever inner restraints had prevented acting on those fantasies. What made the difference between one man wounded and 17 teenagers dead was the weapon: Cruz carried an AR-15, Mario a kitchen knife.
Nikolas walked into a Florida gun store, passed the laughable instant background checks, and walked out with his gun. In Italy you can’t buy a pistol, or carry any firearm on the street, without a license (porto d’armi) issued by the police.What you need to get that license:
1) A specifically authorized specialist physician (not me, and not your own General Practitioner) must certify your mental health. So much for Mario or Nikolas.
2) A specifically authorized physician must certify that you have no visual, hearing, or other physical problems that would interfere with proper use of a firearm.
3) You must have a clean criminal record, with no history of violent crimes or restraining orders.
4) You must not be an army deserter or a conscientious objector.
5) You must have had proper training in gun use and safety, either in the army or a certified two-month civilian course.
6) You must provide a list of all the people you live with.
7) You must demonstrate a specific reason for being at high risk of violent attacks – owning a jewelry shop or working as a security guard will do. Few people meet the test, and certainly not Mario or Nikolas.
You have to reapply for your carry license every year, and you can only own 200 bullets at a time.
If you only want a weapon for sport or hunting the process is easier – you can buy a few shotguns on the basis of just criteria one through six, with a license good for six years. But by law you have to report every acquisition of a weapon or ammunition to the police within three days. You must also store your guns in such a way that children, thieves, and household members who are mentally ill, alcoholics, or drug addicts can’t get hold of them; and transport them to and from the shooting range or game reserve unloaded and locked away. If a family member goes to the police about fights at home, the cops will come take away your guns.
Moral of the story: there are one tenth as many guns in Italy per capita as in the US. And one tenth as many gun deaths, even if you include suicides, accidents, and the Mafia.
|entrance of my conference hotel in Louisville last week|