War I or II. This country has a centuries-old tradition of bloody and stoutresistance to the most powerful European armies. Its people have continuedinto the twentieth century to be an armed citizenry whose members regularlyexercise in weapon handling and practice.My friends listened in disbelief as I explained that the then pending "CrimeBill" in America would make it a five-year felony to possess a firearmmagazine holding over ten cartridges if the magazine had been made after 1994. They laughed contemptuously at the anti-gun claim that "assault rifles"have but a sole purpose: to kill as many people as quickly as possible. To theseItalian Swiss, a fucile d'assalto (assault rifle) has only one purpose in peacetime: to shoot as many bullseyes as quickly as possible.These Swiss saw this disarming of the American people, denying them the rightto possess assault rifles, as contrary to the rights of the citizen. Indeed, the riflesto be banned by the Crime Bill were not real "assault weapons," they weresemi-automatic sporters. The Swiss pointed out that for centuries, no European power has dared aggress against Switzerland, a nation in arms. An armedcitizenry in Alpine terrain has never been very inviting. If Switzerland were to be invaded, the invaders would face assault rifles in the hands of skilledshooters -- the Swiss citizenry.After shooting, we sat in the festival tent drinking Ticino Merlot wine mixedwith a clear Sprite-like soda, a regional favorite for a hot day. Locals excitedlytold me the history of the Mesocco region, and explained the broader Swissideal of freedom.
Swiss Freedom & Liberty
The idea, but not the reality, of liberta (liberty) existed in medieval Milan andspread abroad, including to the Mesocco valley. The people were poor anduneducated, but yearned for freedom. Mesocco freed itself from Milan in 1478, but economics and political power continued to make it difficult for peasants toown weapons. The three independent communities of Mesocco in that centuryare represented today by the blue, white, and gray on the ribbons on which theshooters' medals are pinned.Machiavelli's 16th Century political writings called Switzerland
"most armedand most free."
Within parts of what is now the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, however, there was an everpresent struggle between the rulingclasses and the peasants. The commoners were allowed to have "huntingweapons" under the Articles of 1524, issued from Llanz by powerful lords in