by Leonardo Delfanti – reporting from Verona’s EOS Show
Verona, Italy – Young couples, amateurs, enthusiasts and families walk around intrigued among the more than 330 stands of the EOS Show, the event combining hunting, boating and fishing with sport shooting, self-defence and dog lovers from 11 to 13 February 2023 at the Verona Exhibition Centre. Organised by the Consorzio Armaioli Italiani and Pintails S.r.l., the European Outdoor Show is only at its second edition in Verona but has already attracted criticism from numerous national and European observers as it allows everyone, without distinction of age or profession, to come into contact with the world of ‘common firearms’, i.e. all those weapons legally available in Italy.
These weapons are not considered to be for war as they fall, as shown in the four exhibition pavilions, in the category of tools among fishing, hunting, sporting and personal defence weapons. This is to all effects and purposes an exception in the European exhibition scene. For example, the largest trade fair in the sector, held in March in Nuremberg, does not allow minors access under any circumstances. “The authorisations came from the Questura and the FIGC. For the Verona Trade Fair Authority, minors may enter. If you want to know more, you have to ask them” is the answer we receive at the booth of CONARMI, the Consortium of Italian Gunsmiths, to whom we ask for an explanation. “Of course the weapons are deactivated and unloaded. For us, safety comes first”. For the more than 37,000 visitors who were able to admire rifles, knives, pistols and even Kalashnikovs this year, 13 euros was enough to enter and observe the most interesting novelties in a sector, that of arms production, which does not seem to know any crisis.
This year’s exhibition was much more successful than last year’s, when CONARMI itself admitted to witnessing much lower numbers ‘because it was the first fair after the pandemic and – being between April and May, fishing and hunting were a bit underwhelming’. The 2023 edition was even the Minister for Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Francesco Lollobrigida, extolling ‘a model that represents the good side of the nation and involves good people and many sportsmen who honour us in the world by bringing results of excellence’. Indeed, the figures speak of a constantly growing market. In 2022, Italy produced over 1,140,000 sports arms, 87% of which were exported worldwide. This is a EUR 7.5 billion business, around 0.40% of the national GDP, where unemployment simply does not exist. “This world is important for the economy, but also for culture because some weapons are true works of art,” commented the Minister on an official visit. And so it is that between a game of softair, a dog breed competition won by a Labrador named Messi, a look at the latest birdcalls and a conference to discuss the recent restrictions on the arms trade within the EU, the many young and very young people we meet find themselves out of the blue in Hall 11 and 12, totally dedicated to hunting, sport shooting and personal defence.
It is here that companies like Beretta, Perezza and Tanfoglio let anyone who wants to handle their guns take a close look. The rifles, if not for hunting, are on the other hand firmly fixed to the wall or in sealed cases. “These are high-precision items,” explains a promoter of Chiappa Firearms, famous for its CBR-9 Black Rhino semi-automatic pistol, “each piece is then returned to the laboratory and checked. Attention to physical safety, indeed, is very high. All the products are tied to the display space by a steel cable, the security personnel abounds at every corner and, of course, all items are free of ammunition. As soon as you approach a vendor, you are immediately invited to obtain a firearms licence; everywhere, the stalls advertising shooting courses are many and easily recognisable. In fact, if you do not demonstrate technical competence, the conversation hardly continues, since only those with at least a licence can then contact the relevant gunsmith and thus purchase the product.
Most of the young people we talk to tell us that they inherited their passion for common arms from their father or grandfather, often former hunters. Then there are those who, while playing online, have matured the desire to move on to the real thing. These users, often couples, are then directed to the use of guns in private ranges to experience the thrill of gunpowder in tactical or defensive mode. “There are a lot of girls approaching the use of pistols,” a professional instructor reveals. The use of guns for self-defence is taboo. Not only for the exhibitors, who never stop repeating that ‘in an instant, it changes your life’, but also for the few who are willing to talk about it, who admit that at most they can use a gun ‘to shoot once in a while’. Nevertheless, a worker who wishes to remain anonymous reveals, ‘once the weapons are sold, we no longer care about them’. This a problem that should concern the corporate responsibility of those who sell, given that often various types of weapons end up in the underground market.
The nonsense, according to the Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, is revealed in giving very young people free access to the event without any weapons education: ‘this is a purely ideological and marketing operation’.- according to Giorgio Beretta, OPAL analyst who is part of the Italian Peace and Disarmament Network and who recently published the essay Il Paese delle armi* (The country of weapons – cover image to the right). Since the 1990s, hunters in Italy have decreased by one million, “this means that weapons dealers must interact with other sectors, first and foremost that of private security”. Beretta highlights how of the 500 thousand fellow citizens who now hold a licence for sporting weapons, only 140 thousand are registered with national shooting federations and less than 100 thousand with private shooting ranges. “This leads to the reflection that more than 300 thousand people hold a licence for sporting weapons not because they want to practice sport shooting but because they intend to have weapons in their homes.
According to Italian legislation, any person with a shooting or hunting licence may possess up to three revolvers or semi-automatic pistols with a magazine of up to 20 rounds, 12 semi-automatic rifles with up to 10 rounds and an unlimited number of shotguns. “It is not clear why a hunter can possess weapons for personal defence or semi-automatic rifles with which he cannot hunt, or why those who possess weapons for personal defence can also have hunting rifles.” Beretta also points out that light weapons, which are owned by about 4 million Italians, or 8% of the population, are responsible for 16.1% of all feminicides: “This is precisely why we are calling for more restrictive rules on legal gun owners”. In the meantime, dialogue is slow in coming. The Peace and Disarmament Network was present with a sit-in in front of the fair but no one inside seemed to care. For CONARMI, ‘those to whom weapons evoke the imagery of war will never stop’. The problem is that they did not take into account what the Network has been pointing out for years and had not failed to point out to the event organisers on this occasion either.
All pictures are the author’s own work.