Stricter gun laws target violent offenders

January 13, 2012

Costa Rica may be the land of pura vida, but officials from the Public Security Ministry announced Tuesday that in the face of growing criminality they are rethinking their laid-back attitudes on gun control.

“The Public Security Ministry wants to share some of the important measures taken to reduce the rate of homicides in the country,” said Celso Gamboa, vice minister of public security, at a Tuesday press conference where he unveiled the Public Security Ministry’s new regulations. “As many of you have observed, there is a great quantity of firearms handled by Costa Rican citizens and foreigners in this country at the margins of the law.”

The new regulations will require stricter monitoring of legally owned firearms in Costa Rica and will prohibit individuals with previous violent criminal histories from legally owning guns. In 2011, said Gamboa, Costa Rica logged 276 homicides committed with guns, a 20 percent reduction from the 347 gun-related murders in 2010.

Under the new regulations anyone with prior criminal convictions for domestic violence or other violent or drug-related crimes will be not be allowed to own firearms. Currently, Costa Rican law allows individuals to own up to three firearms for personal use.

“Carrying arms is a concession by the state [to citizens], not a right,” Gamboa said. The vice minister added that individuals who were legally allowed to own and carry firearms committed half of last year’s homicides involving firearms. The new regulations, he said, will prevent people with violent histories from legally buying guns.

“We want to take the guns out of the hands of those people,” Gamboa said.

The ministry will upgrade its national firearms registry and transition to a digital system to better track gun ownership in the country.

The digital registry, said Javier Herrera, of the Department of Firearms and Explosives Control, will be implemented with the collaboration of the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and will be connected to that agency’s own database to track guns used in crimes in the U.S. that may show up in Costa Rica.

Additionally, Gamboa said, the ministry is pushing to stiffen penalties for carrying unregistered or wrongly registered guns. 

“Every day we have more people arrested for carrying firearms that are not properly registered,” he said. 

Now such infractions carry a maximum sentence of only a few months of prison time, according to Gamboa, who said he wants to make the minimum punishment no less than four years in prison. Applying “severe penalties” for illegally carrying weapons, Gamboa said, will “demotivate” the wrong people from packing heat.

Gamboa said Costa Rica currently has 23,973 individuals legally registered to carry guns.

The new regulations go into effect immediately, Gamboa said, and current gun owners can expect to be notified about updating their firearms registry information as the new, digitized system is rolled out in coming months.

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