Commentary. All major ethno-supremacist massacres show two particular determining factors: easy legal access to weapons and the lethality of the weapons used.

Fascist terrorists are not lone wolves

The Buffalo massacre in the United States also hits close to home in Italy. But not because the mass murderer, Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old white supremacist who killed ten people, says his parents are of Northern European and Italian origin.

Nor because, like other murderous white supremacists in the United States, New Zealand, and Europe, he claims to have been inspired in his criminal act by the deeds of Luca Traini, the Lega sympathizer who fired wildly at immigrants from his car in Macerata in February 2018: an attempted massacre “inspired by Nazi-fascist ideologies” and “aggravated by racial hatred,” as the Italian Supreme Court ruled.

Most of all, it hits close to home because all major ethno-supremacist massacres show two particular determining factors: easy legal access to weapons and the lethality of the weapons used. Two elements which, combined with racial hatred and Nazi-fascist ideology, make for a potentially explosive mixture in Italy as well.

It is not just a problem of “lone wolves”: it involves groups inspired by those ideologies. As the Report on Information Policy for Security, recently delivered to the Italian Parliament, warns, “the level of danger arising from the online spread of neo-Nazi and supremacist ideologies is still high, which incite to carry out violent and indiscriminate acts motivated by racial hatred or in line with the global ‘accelerationist’ current that aims at a ‘violent solution’ as the only way to bring down the ‘system.’”

“This phenomenon,” the Report highlights, “which has been on a steadily rising trend at the international level in recent years, has found further confirmation in 2021 on the judicial level, after several police operations revealed the ways in which such virtual pro-violence propaganda in our country has contributed to fueling insidious paths of radicalization of individuals and small groups, evidencing signs of a risk of the threat possibly transitioning to the real world.” Thus, in Italy, the risk concerns not just individuals but groups, and it is not a mere threat but a tangible one.

The prospect is even more tangible if one takes into account that in Italy there are at least 350,000 “phantom shooters,” that is, people who own guns with a license for sports shooting but who are not registered with any of the national sports shooting associations.

According to current regulations, such persons are allowed to own 3 pistols with magazines of up to twenty rounds, 12 semiautomatic rifles – the type most widely used in mass shootings – with an unlimited number of magazines of up to ten rounds and without a reporting requirement, and an unlimited number of shotguns.

That’s enough to legally arm entire battalions. These people can practice with these weapons in various shooting disciplines, including “dynamic shooting,” and they can train for armed confrontation between groups by emulating war strategies in urban-like scenarios using soft-air weapons which are faithful reproductions of firearms.

In Italy, no specialized background check or toxicological examination is required to obtain a gun license: everything is based on a self-certification signed by a general physician and a psychological and physical fitness exam at the local health authority, similar to the one for obtaining a driver’s license.

Luca Traini got his “sports shooting” license in just eighteen days. How many others like him, animated by Nazi-fascist ideologies, are there in Italy? No one knows. And just like him, they might all be armed – legally.

Giorgio Beretta is an analyst with the Permanent Observatory on Light Weapons and Security and Defense Policies (OPAL).

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