A row over privately owned guns has been ignited in Italy after a councillor with the far-right League party allegedly shot dead an immigrant.

Massimo Adriatici, a councillor for security in Voghera, is under house arrest following the shooting outside a bar in the Lombardy town on Tuesday night. Youns El Bossettaoui, a 38-year-old man from Morocco, was shot in the chest and later died in hospital.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League and a key partner in Mario Draghi’s broad coalition, immediately defended Adriatici, arguing that the councillor, a former police commander and criminal lawyer, had acted in self-defence.

He said in a video posted on social media on Wednesday: “The hypothesis is self-defence. [Adriatici] is a professor of criminal law, a former police officer and criminal lawyer, known and esteemed … he was a victim of aggression to which he responded accidentally.”

In an interview with Agorà, a current affairs show on Rai TV, on Thursday morning, Salvini also defended Adriatici for carrying a gun: “From what has emerged, he was attacked by a criminal and illegal immigrant. Let’s wait until all the findings emerge – when someone dies it’s always a defeat and a time of mourning, but before judging and condemning we must be cautious.”

According to Italian media reports, Adriatici, who was carrying a .22 calibre pistol, claimed he intervened when El Bossettaoui, who had a wife and two children in Morocco, was allegedly disturbing customers at the bar. The two men got into a row and El Bossettaoui allegedly pushed Adriatici. Adriatici claimed a bullet was accidentally fired as he fell to the ground.

Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic party, which is also part of Draghi’s coalition, called for a ban on privately owned guns. “A man has died, because of a gun,” Letta said. “One thing we must and can do: stop privately owned weapons.”

Franco Mirabelli, a Democratic party senator, said he found Salvini’s words “chilling”. “A man shot and killed another man,” he added. “It is a tragedy – before the judgments, grief for the victim should prevail.”

Riccardo Magi, the president of the small leftwing party More Europe, said: “Salvini’s game is deceptive … it has given citizens the idea that they have to defend themselves and that there is impunity for shooting.”

According to figures from the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, cited in La Stampa newspaper, an estimated 1.2 million Italians who are not among the police and security forces own small guns.

As with other western EU countries, there are tough laws governing gun ownership and use in Italy. Owners have to first go through a stringent process to obtain a gun purchasing licence, and once a gun is bought the owner must notify the interior ministry. There are limits on the type and number of firearms an individual can own as well as restrictions on the amount of ammunition they can access. Another special licence is required to carry a gun in public spaces.

Most police and security staff can carry guns. However, their use is only permitted in extreme circumstances, including when acting in self-defence.

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