Gun owners in Costa Rica can now get firearm permits online

Starting Tuesday, aspiring gun owners in Costa Rica can now obtain their permits online, part of a larger trend by the government to include more services on the web.

The head of the Public Security Ministry, Mario Zamora, made the announcement at a Tuesday press conference in the western San José neighborhood of La Sabana. Zamora noted that the system will make it easier for permit-holders and will be a law enforcement tool, tracking the country’s firearms.

“The new online system by the Public Security Ministry will permit transparency, support police investigations and improve ease of access,” Zamora said. “When the system is completely online it will allow for better investigations of crime.”

Zamora said foreigners, such as those with work permits or long-term residents, would be eligible for firearms permits. The government has already put much of its immigration records online, and Zamora said that the government’s databases would first check immigration information to ensure eligibility. An aspiring gun owner could then begin the normal process. Those on typical 90-day tourist visas are still ineligible to possess a firearm.

Owners are limited to three firearms in Costa Rica.

Zamora said the online program exists thanks to an investment of $1.6 million.

The website for permits is here. Would-be firearm owners must pay a $22 fee, pass a psychological exam, pass a theoretical and practical test, submit fingerprints, and obtain a digital identification. Previously, gun-permit seekers had to visit the ministry’s offices, which will still accommodate those seeking permits without going online.

Permit holders must renew their permits every two years, though the fee is paid only once. Zamora said that for police purposes the government should have a database of all legally owned weapons in two years.

If applicants fail the psychological exam, they will be blocked from application for two years, according to a report by the daily La Nación.

La Nación also reported that the database will be useful for monitoring Costa Rica’s ubiquitous private security industry. Citizens who hire private security guards for their businesses or homes can check if the guard is legally licensed to carry and to which agency, if any, he belongs.

The newspaper also printed a graphical representation of the new permit process.

Costa Rica ranked in the middle for gun ownership among 178 countries in a 2007 Small Arms Survey (pdf). The ranking put the country in 64th place, with nearly 10 firearms owned per 100 people. The U.S. topped the list with 88.8 firearms owned per 100. Uruguay had the most per capita guns of any Latin American country with 31.8, while Panamá led among Central American countries with 21.7.

The website GunPolicy.org, run by the University of Sydney, Australia, characterized Costa Rica’s gun regulations as restrictive. According to their research, there is no right to own a weapon in Costa Rica. Automatic weapons and many semi-automatic weapons are banned. Illegal possession of firearms can incur a penalty of up to five years in prison.

At the press conference, Zamora said that the government would continue putting more of its services online as well as including data and statistics in an attempt to be more transparent.