New directive designed to tighten rules on gun ownership

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo Press conference included a display of confiscated arms.

The security ministry said Tuesday that in the future it will be a lot tougher for criminals to get their hands on firearms because of a directive that has gone into effect with the goal of tightening gun restrictions and fixing gaps in the national gun registry.

The directive came from Vice Minister Celso Gamboa and went to the department within the ministry in charge of issuing permits pertaining to firearms and explosives. Some of the highlights of the new regulations will be to curtail acquisition of firearms by persons with criminal backgrounds. Law enforcement officials at a press conference Tuesday said registered criminals frequently are turning up with guns registered in their names even though people with criminal backgrounds should not posses firearms.

Gamboa characterized the national gun registry as having irregularities and pointed to a statistic that half of the gun homicides in the past year were committed with registered guns. There were 276 homicides committed with guns in 2011, and the ministry reports to have confiscated 33,000 guns used to commit crimes in Costa Rica. Reports indicate there are approximately 200,000 registered guns in the country.

Gamboa said starting Tuesday, even if a gun is registered to an owner, if that owner has prior convictions, the gun can be seized from the owner by authorities. The directive states persons with police or judicial records of robbery, assault, homicides, domestic violence,and drugs, among others, are excluded from gun possession.

Gamboa asserted that owning a gun in Costa Rica is not a right but that it’s a privilege. The directive also attempts to further regulate the sale of guns used in sport and hunting and is written to limit to three the number of guns any one person can legally own. In addition, the directive orders armament and explosives department personnel to investigate more thoroughly the executives and owners of security firms which hire armed employees. The directive came after a weekend in which police detained an owner of a security firm who also was found to be a suspect in an auto theft ring. The suspect had a criminal record as well.

The point of view of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is not shared by everyone.

An employee of a downtown gun shop, Mundi Armas de San José, took the exact opposite position: Rather than trying to diminish the amount of guns on the street, he said it was time people thought about protecting themselves. He laughed at the thought that the Fuerza Pública would be there in time to protect a person or his or her family in a home invasion or other time of need.

The employee characterized the police on the street as too few and poorly prepared. He also claimed the ministry had not informed the shop of the directive but claimed that it was already standard procedure not to sell guns to people with prior convictions. Moreover he said a large amount of guns are stolen from rightful owners or come from Panamá or Nicaragua, and these guns can be bought on the street with cash without a background check.

At the press conference, Gamboa acknowledged the illegal importation of firearms as an obstacle to gun enforcement. Also, included in the directive are requirements to investigate when guns are reported stolen or taken from a rightful owner to determine if that person was negligent in keeping the firearm safe.

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