Proposed law would tighten up possession of guns

Here is a cache of arms Fuerza Pública officers found when they stopped a car in Moín March 13. The driver had a permit to carry one weapon but the rest were illegal, police said.

Lawmakers will have the opportunity to tighten up the country’s gun laws, although there is no guarantee that they will do so.

A proposed, stricter law was the topic of a forum Wednesday at the legislative assembly complex. The principal change to the existing law is that the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will set up a tougher course of instruction for those who would seek permits to carry a weapon. The current course was characterized as very basic.

The proposed law also requires better marksmanship. Under the current law, those seeking a permit to carry a sidearm must fire 10 shots into a piece of letter paper at a distance of six meters, just short of 20 feet. The new proposal would require hitting a moving target, and those who have a permit would have to prove there competence each time they renewed their five-year permit. The proposal would require 10 to 30 shots and demonstration of the ability to reload a weapon.

The proposal also would require a separate test for every type of weapon. The summary to the bill mentions the current classes of driver’s license. Someone with a basic passenger car license cannot drive a heavy truck or a motorcycle.

The proposed law would regulate individuals by the caliber of the weapon. Someone who obtained a permit for a .22-caliber sidearm could not carry a .38-caliber pistol. And revolvers were differentiated from pistols. So someone who passed a test for a .45-caliber pistol could not carry a .38-caliber revolver without taking another test.

The proposal also requires permit seekers to provide a blood test report that shows they are not drug users. Marijuana endures in the blood for at least a month, but cocaine traces vanish in a day or two.

The proposal continues the practice of requiring a certification by a psychiatrist attesting to the mental soundness of the applicant. That rule went into effect during the presidency of Abel Pacheco, a psychiatrist, and has generally been considered an unnecessary expense. A quick meeting with a psychiatrist does not allow sufficient time for a real evaluation.

Only foreigners who have held permanent residency for five years would be allowed to carry a weapon. The five-year requirement seems to be new. Special permits would be issued for visitors who come to Costa Rica to compete with weapons or for some other legitimate purpose, like training.

The proposal is comprehensive. It even forbids the possession of tanks of war, missiles and nuclear arms. The proposal also covers security guards and police officers, who would have to renew their permits every two years. The measure does not include proposals that were advanced by Laura Chinchilla before she became president to limit the number of weapons a citizen may possess to three.

The proposal is generally friendly to gun ownership. A preface recognizes the increase in current crime and notes that a country like Switzerland with the highest rate of personal gun ownership also has a very low gun murder rate. The proposal defines legitimate defense in the face of a threat and appears to increase the penalties for possession of a weapon without a permit. AK-47s of all types still would be outlawed.

Juan Diego Castro, a lawyer who frequently comments on criminal matters, told the forum Wednesday that the penalties should be even higher for carrying a gun without a permit or for having an unregistered weapon. He also wanted a penalty inserted for threatening someone with a weapon.

Illegal gun possession is rampant in Costa Rica. Not only criminals but ordinary citizens have weapons.

The bill’s summary notes that the civil war in Nicaragua left a large source of weapons and that a number of highly publicized murder cases were the result of fire from illegal weapons.

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