GUATEMALA CITY – President Alvaro Colom has ordered a halt to the issuance of firearm permits “for an indefinite time” in an effort to reduce the violence plaguing Guatemala, a presidential spokesman said.
The executive order, which took effect Feb. 9, will be in effect until Congress approves the firearms legislation that has been debated for six years, a presidential spokesman said.
“The goal is to reduce the level of violence. The majority of bloody incidents are produced by firearms. That’s something that the president wants to end,” the spokesman said.
Colom’s order forces the Arms and Munitions Department, which is managed by the army and grants gun permits, to freeze all applications for firearm licenses.
The president also ordered the department to review “one by one” the nearly 3,000 permits for offensive weapons that are registered as “sporting” arms in a move to control them.
Some 50,000 illegal firearms, according to private research centers, are in Guatemala, with most of the weapons being smuggled in from Mexico, the United States and Europe. Street gangs are blamed for much of the violence plaguing this Central American nation.
The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), one of several gangs operating in Guatemala, is a particularly violent criminal organization that evolved on the streets of Los Angeles, California, during the 1980s.
Most of the gang’s members were young Salvadorans whose parents fled their nation’s civil war for the United States.
The more than 5,400 homicides reported last year in Guatemala – a nation of approximately 13.3 million – was nearly equal to the number of murders in neighboring Mexico, which has more than 100 million inhabitants and is the scene of open war among rival drug cartels.