NRA Ring of Freedom | Ugo and Monique Beretta

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Ugo Gussalli Beretta heads a family, and a company with a centuries-old commitment to excellence and freedom.

THE BERETTAS IN ITALY

A Family Tradition

Monique Beretta, the First Lady of Firearms

On a clear August evening last summer at his home in Clinton, Md., Cavaliere Ugo Gussalli Beretta was inducted into the Golden Ring of Freedom, the highest honor in the NRA’s comprehensive donor recognition society, the Ring of Freedom.

Following the jacketing ceremony, Cav. Beretta announced that the Beretta group of companies would give NRA-ILA and the Civil Rights Defense Fund $1 million over the next five years—bringing Beretta’s total gifts and commitment to NRA programs to more than $2 million.

The moment reverberated across ages and continents, echoing from the 15th-century Beretta home in the Gardone Val Trompia region of Lombardy, reflecting in the glint of the M9 sidearm at every American soldier’s side, sustaining the unbroken, 16-generation lineage of Beretta family ownership, to rivet a new linchpin in the saga of the master gunmaker founded when America was still the New World.

When Ugo Gussalli and Monique Beretta joined the Golden Ring of Freedom, they reaffirmed the company’s 482-year history of providing the world with the proudest and finest of firearms, preserving freedom, independence, self-determination and sovereignty.

While the Beretta family is one of the Golden Ring of Freedom’s charter members, it has long been a committed benefactor of the National Rifle Association, with support for NRA youth education, hunting and wildlife conservation, and for the National Firearms Museum. “If anyone wonders whether the Berettas really care about the Second Amendment, just go visit BerettaUSA.com,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at the Golden Ring of Freedom induction.

“On Beretta’s home page, they promote only two things,” LaPierre said, holding two fingers aloft as the crowd waited to explode in applause. “Beretta products … and NRA memberships!” The Berettas’ most recent pledge is designated to benefit the Institute for Legislative Action and the Civil Rights Defense Fund, to preserve Second Amendment protections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. “The Beretta Group’s support couldn’t have come at a more critical time,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA’s executive director.

"He understands the immediate threats to our shared love for liberty."

“Ugo Gussalli Beretta has seen firsthand the struggle for freedom around the world. He understands the immediate threats to our shared love for liberty. He and his company have literally reached around the globe to support us in this fight.”

The first recipient of Beretta’s new gift, NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, virtually invented grassroots political activism since its creation in the 1970s. Today, NRA-ILA mobilizes millions of volunteers nationwide on behalf of candidates who advocate Second Amendment freedom, and against those who don’t. The other beneficiary of this Beretta gift, the Civil Rights Defense Fund, exists to come to citizens’ legal aid when no one else will. It’s the NRA’s sister 501(c)3 organization that stands forever ready to engage in litigation and argue significant legal issues relating to the right to keep and bear arms.

The Beretta tradition began long ago—and continues today—in the picturesque Gardone Val Trompia region, some 50 miles east of Milan, Italy. There, nestled in the foothills of the Alps, the Beretta family of factories efficiently manufactures the products appreciated by so many around the globe. Numerous buildings comprise the enormous operation, but clearly the Berettas’ ancestral home and core values anchor a unique way of life in the valley. The history of this extraordinary family is well documented. For five centuries, generation after generation of Berettas has been forged by a fierce defense of quality, traditions and trade secrets. It is a feat unrivaled by any name in any endeavor in the history of humanity, an achievement elevating the firearm as friend of freedom to its proper and pre-eminent place.

But Ugo Gussalli Beretta is not one to rest on his laurels—and hasn’t since taking control of the company in 1993. “Tradition is important, but it’s not enough,” he said. “Each generation must improve. One person is not as important as a ‘together’ family.” Ugo Gussalli’s wife Monique, originally from Belgium, has played an important role in strengthening the Beretta dynasty. The couple met in 1958 in England where they both went to study English. On the first day of school, Ugo noticed Monique getting out of the car when she arrived at her dormitory. He offered to help with her bags, and a new chapter in the Beretta family history began. The couple married in 1961.

Elegant engravature adorns this model.

Elegant engravature adorns this model.

Known for her warm hospitality and generous nature, Monique Beretta, the first lady of firearms, is the epitome of graciousness. Today, much of her time is spent nurturing several vineyards, including Lo Sparviere in Italy’s Franciacorta region, where unique and sought-after Bruts, Esperidios and Rosés are produced. 

The grand Lo Sparviere estate dates back to the 16th century, and takes its name and symbol from the sparrow hawk, or sparviere, which also adorns the coat of arms displayed proudly above the fireplace in the estate’s palatial great room. Winemaking here mirrors Beretta’s approach to gun making: A discerning combination of tradition and technology are employed. Vintners still use time-tested equipment and instruments dating to antiquity, while simultaneously calling upon modern production and bottling techniques to enhance overall wine quality.

Here in Italy, against a backdrop of history painted by generations of Berettas, Monique and Ugo raised their sons Pietro and Franco to be leaders of the family business and role models for the next generation. Ugo is still active in directing the Beretta companies, but runs them with the ever-increasing involvement of Pietro and Franco, who have completed savvy mergers and purchases of relevant companies. Franco also has a son, Carlo, who may choose the family business some day.

"Tradition is important, but it’s not enough each generation must improve."

It is fair to say that Beretta’s 15th generation is already afield, hunting both pheasant and new acquisitions to build on the company’s successes into the third millennium. It all began in 1526 when Ugo’s direct-by-bloodline ancestor Maestro Bartolomeo Beretta sold 185 hand-cast, handcrafted arquebus barrels for 296 gold ducats to help save his countrymen. It was a precious price at the time, but the highly discriminating Republic of Venice would accept no less. The Beretta family still holds the original bill of sale in guarded possession.

The famed Venetian Arsenal purchased the Beretta arquebus rifle barrels near the end of the Four Years’ War, 1521-1526, which pitted the Republic of Venice and Francis I of France against Roman Emperor Charles V, England’s Henry VIII and the Papal States. Though this sale to the Republic of Venice is Beretta’s first confirmed historical transaction, production had been well under way in Gardone Val Trompia, perhaps when Christopher Columbus set foot in the New World.

Beretta has since become synonymous with uncompromising craftsmanship and construction, premier design and materials, and elegant, intricate firearm engravature, all of which propelled the Beretta name beyond Italy’s borders into a storied history of worldwide proportions.

As the next generation assumes leadership of the Beretta Group of companies, Ugo Gussalli and Monique Beretta gradually turn their attentions toward their other life passions. For Ugo, sailing his boat off the coast of Turkey, enjoying his collection of cars or tracking a record-setting elephant top the list of well-earned leisure activities. When asked if he ever thought of a different career, Ugo chuckled and said, “No, I never thought to do something different. But if I had, I would have been an entrepreneur for sure.”

An engraver adding details.In addition to her passion for winemaking, Monique simply beams when talking about her grandson Carlo. “He’s American, you know, born in New York City,” she says with great pride. 

From Italy to America, from Gardone Val Trompia and Franciacorta to Clinton, Md., the ages-old Beretta family tradition lives on. Their living legacy is visible in fine, celebrated firearms; rich, delicate wines; and a way of life that embraces custom and innovation, freedom and the necessary work to attain it, humble beginnings and the fruits of success. As the Beretta tradition continues, handed down from Bartolomeo to Ugo Gussalli, through Pietro and Franco and, now, to young Carlo, its forebears have left a legacy of craftsmanship and liberty that will be savored by countless generations to come.

Controlled by the Beretta family, the Beretta Holding Group encompasses key manufacturers of field and competition firearms and optics, as well as trading and distribution companies in Italy and abroad including Benelli, Franchi and Uberti in Italy; and Sako and Tikka in Finland.

The oldest among them, Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A. (Pietro Beretta arms manufacturing company), which has been handed down over 15 generations, has been active in the village of Gardone Val Trompia since the 15th century.

Documentary evidence for the family business dates back to 1526.

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