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I was strolling down one of the back alleys in Venice, Italy the other day when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that I almost dismissed as impossible. In a city whose economy is almost completely dependent on tourists there was a shop with a smattering of pistols in the window, all for sale. While they were indeed “fake” pistols, they were shockingly good fakes. And to me that’s the problem.

For the last few decades tourism has been the driving force in Venice. People from around the world travel here to enjoy the city and the history, and the city in turn bleeds them dry in a “death by a thousand cuts” sort of way. A little here for the Vaporetto, a little more for the obligatory Ballini, and a whole lot more for the food. Besides entry fees and food the other big business is in souvenirs, mainly in the form of rather awful looking shirts and hokey hats. In that vein, seeing reproduction firearms wasn’t all that surprising; I’m sure they sell well. But a pistol bought in Venice, even a fake one, needs to make it back home somehow.

Option #1 for getting it home is in your luggage, and this is probably the most popular method. There are really only three ways to get to Venice: plane, boat, or train. Two thirds of those methods (plane and boat) require passengers’ baggage to go through some X-Ray machines before it makes it on board. It strikes me that the people who buy replica firearms on holiday overseas might not be the most firearms savvy people and therefore may figure that putting it in your checked baggage is no biggie. Unfortunately for them, the Carbinierri do not seem like the most understanding people in the world.

In the United States any device that looks like a firearm, including replicas, need to be declared before checking the baggage and proven to be unloaded. This isn’t just Federal law (or common courtesy), this is the official policy of the carriers themselves. Failure to comply voids their agreement to carry you to your destination, and may land you in some hot water with the local police. I’m sure that at least one of the local screeners have gotten the scare of their lifetime after finding something that looks like an undeclared pistol in a passenger’s bag.

Option #2 for getting the thing home is by carrying it in a carry-on bag or similar sachel. Before coming to Italy I did some research on the Italian concealed carry laws, and it turns out that simply having a pocket knife is often enough to get you in trouble for carrying a concealed weapon. With laws that restrictive I’d think that being caught on the streets or in a train with something that looks an awful lot like a pistol would be frowned upon. And by “frowned upon” I mean “possibly arrested or shot.” Not a good ending to your vacation.

If you’re going by air or sea, the “oh, shit” moment may be a little scarier than one solo police officer finding a replica firearm in your bag and giving you a quizzical look. The general reaction to something that might be a gun in an airport or security checkpoint by law enforcement is typically “overreact, then sort it all out.” Whick makes sense and keeps them safe while they’re doing a potentially deadly job. But from the perspective of the person who accidentally forgot about the replica pistol in their bag it may be one of those times in your lives where a change of pants is necessary afterwards. The final penalty might not be as bad as that cheerleader is going to get (you know, the hot one with the heater in her carry-on a few days ago), but the initial service will be up to the same quality.

Option #3 is to have it mailed back to your place of origin. This actually might work best, as airsoft guns make their way into the United States every day more or less unmolested. The only issue is that I didn’t see a single U.P.S. store during all of my wanderings around Venice. I’m convinced there’s one around here, but if I haven’t seen it then the average tourist probably hasn’t either and instead is likely to opt for Option #1 or Option #2.

Not only were there convincingly good fake pistols, but fake ammunition too. I’d stop short of calling it “convincing,” though. The “Mauser” ammo looks pretty close to 8mm Mauser, and the “AK-47” ammo looks about right for 7.62×39, but the last time I checked the ammunition for the M-1 Carbine (because that is WAY too short for M1 Garand .30-06), .30 Carbine, was a straight walled cartridge without a bump in the middle. I also thought the MP-40 and the Beretta 92FS took the same 9mm Parabellum cartridge, but I could be wrong. And it wouldn’t be the first time mislabeled ammunition made it into the hands of consumers.

The ammunition looks pretty convincing until you realize that there’s no primer or primer pocket in the case head. Instead there’s a nice seam that just screams “injection molding.” The police officer on the street or the security officer in the transportation terminal, however, may not be as well versed as you or I in the finer points of ammunition identification and telling fake ammo from real ammo. Again, the words “frowned upon” come to mind with the same meaning as before.

So, what’s my point in writing this? It is vacation season after all, and I know that even I was tempted to buy one of those novelty replica firearms. So for all of you out there on vacation in other parts of the world, before you buy any weapons (or anything that LOOKS like a weapon) just think it through to the end and how you’re going to get it home. Just because you didn’t have to pass a background check and fill out a 4473 to get it doesn’t mean you can bring it on the plane with you.

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  1. Nick,

    Didn’t you ask the shop proprietor whether tourists or locals comprise the bulk of his/her sales?
    I would think they would also have ideas or opinions about how tourists get these purchases home?

    • It was late (the shop was closed), and I was stumbling back to the Hotel Danielli at the time so I didn’t quite remember where that shop was when I went to look for it the next afternoon. I wanted to ask, but alas I’ve already skedaddled.

  2. Just helps highlight the irrationality of our transportation “security” system. We spend our efforts, a significant expenditure by the way, looking for weapons (or things that look like weapons) rather than bad guys. Its easier that way and it looks like “security” is doing something.

    Everyone sleeps (in this case travels) easier comforted by the feeling that “security” is watching out for them. A false feeling to be sure, but a feeling none the less. In the meantime those of us who value liberty are screwed again.

  3. It would cost at least two hundred dollars to ship this via UPS, and there’s a good chance that it wouldn’t make it thru customs. I recently UPS’ed some data forms for a meeting, and customs placed a two week hold because they needed a better discription of the contents.

  4. Wow, Nick, you really get around! Venice stands out in a land full of extraordinary towns and cities. It’s as beautiful as it is strange. I have to confess I missed the Ballini.

  5. I suspect that the guy running the store might have at least some idea how to ship things. Did you ask?

  6. “I also thought the MP-40 and the Beretta 92FS took the same 9mm Parabellum cartridge,”

    They do.

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