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Costa Rica attempts to control guns to decrease crime rate

Costa Rica wants to reform the law and reduce the number of weapons on the street in order to decrease the alarming crime rate.

The government’s new attempt to establish additional control over weapon possession, which was regulated by legislation in 1994, provoked criticism from those who support the right to carry weapons. They believe the initiative is an unnecessary punishment.

“We have seen a significant correlation between firearms and violence,” said Vice Minister of Security Eduardo Solano. “Of all the homicides last year, 68 percent were committed with firearms, and of all the offenses committed in the country, half involved weapons.”

Costa Rica has experienced an alarming increase in homicides between 2012 and 2017, when it reached a level of 12.1 violent deaths per 100,000 citizens, according to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).

The figure decreased in 2018 to 11.7, still significantly higher than the worldwide average of 5.3 in 2015, according to the UN office on drugs and crime.

The reform of the 1994 law seeks to control the number of weapons and increase punishments for black market purchases.

Under current law, the possession of a weapon without proper registration is punishable by community service. The reformed law proposes prison sentences.

Solano also aims to control the gateway between the legal and illegal market.

The vice minister also cited official information, which states that during recent years 5,270 weapons from private security companies went missing and are possibly in the hands of delinquents.

The reform aims to give the state control over weapons when a security company closes or has their license suspended. The company would have a deadline to legally sell them or get back their operating license. Otherwise, the weapons will be destroyed.

The reform also wants to reduce the number of firearms a civilian can register from three to one. It allows the state to remove weapons under certain conditions.

The objective, Solano notes, is to make a positive impact on security, remove firearms from criminals and, consequently, decrease the homicide rate.

(Ezequiel Becerra / AFP)

More controls

Pro Defensa, an association for licensed weapon carriers, is firmly opposed to decreasing the number of weapons in the hands of civilians and questioned other aspects of the reform.

The engineer and secretary of Pro Defensa, Mauricio Alvarado, says many aspects of the reform are misguided. He cites the proposed prohibition of 762×39 caliber as an example. It’s used in the AK47- a rifle often used in crimes- and in sporting rifles.

“This shows that there is a lot of ignorance and naivety, because if criminal groups can access the black market easily, they will not go to the legal market to buy ammunition. That’s absurd,” Alvarado said.

Citing OIJ data, Alvarado claimed that between 2015 and 2018, there were 36,820 reported crimes with firearms. Of the 442 weapons that the police recovered, only 48 were licensed. In his opinion, this shows the reduced number of legal weapons in crime.

“The restriction imposed on those licensed to carry weapon will have no effect on the rate of crime,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado stated that the members of Pro Defensa are advocates of the regulation of firearm possession, but question the changes currently in discussion.

Enrique Sánchez, a legislator for the Citizen’s Action Party, highlighted that the desired controls won’t be retroactive, and will not affect those who currently have three or more registered weapons.

“A greater quantity of weapons in the street increases the possibility of violence,” Sánchez said. “A weapon in the case of domestic violence increases the risk of femicide; in a street fight, it increases the risk of homicide.”

(Ezequiel Becerra / AFP)

He admitted that the restriction is the biggest challenge that the government’s reform faces.

The representative Zoila Rosa Volio, of the opposing National Integration Party, asked that the controls focus on security companies so that the weapons do not fall into the hands of criminals.

“Why focus on the licensed carriers of weapons that don’t create problems? It is the security companies and the weapons misplaced by the State that are creating problems. Let’s focus the fight where it should be,” insisted Volio.

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