A nationwide ban on bearing firearms came into force this week in Colombia, as part of the government’s efforts to reduce violent crime.
In January, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree prohibiting the carrying of guns until the end of 2016. This is an extension of an earlier decree which was signed just before Christmas and in force for a month.
“On 23rd December we took a decision to ban the carrying of firearms,” said Santos on 19th January. “The results in terms of lives saved are positive and for that reason I’ve made the decision to extend this country-wide firearms ban from 31st January to 31st December.”
According to figures from the Defense Ministry, there was a 13% fall in the number of violent murders between 23rd December and 20th January, compared to the same period a year earlier.
Santos, who said that Colombia’s murder rate was at its lowest for 40 years, said the measure “should contribute to a further decrease in crime”.
The mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, spoke of how the measure will help to reduce murder rates in the city, by talking of the “quantity of lives which have been saved by this decision”.
Bogota previously banned guns in public places for three months in 2012, later extending the ban through until February 2013.
The capital city has also been operating an initiative called ‘Por Amor a Bogotá me desarmo’, in which 25,000 illegal firearms have been voluntarily handed in. The programme also provides social conscious to school in what it calls “Cultural democracy” in terms of music, art, theatre with the hope of imparting a wilder social conscientiousness regarding the perils of firearm usage.
The decree makes concessions for public and private security firms and also for some citizens, who are able demonstrate it to be a necessity to carry firearms.
However, the president of the Colombian Federation of Farmers (FCG), José Félix Lafaurie, took to Twitter to speak of his fears for “people who work in red zones (with much violence),” who he said are the ones being made to be punished while the “bandits” can act as they please.
Last year Colombia was deemed the forth most violent country in Latin America and the Caribbean by the Global peace index. The city of Cali was ranked as the 10th most violent in the world in a recent index.
The gun possession law was limited through the constitution of 1991, whereby citizens are permitted the right to bear arms with a governmental permit. Civilians from 18 years of age may carry small pistols and shotguns. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons are prohibited, except for exceptional circumstances. Appeals for this are made to the Arms Committee for the ministry of Defence.
The Defense Ministry said that there were around 900,000 legal firearms registered in the country, with 500,000 licensed to be carried by the owner. However, a report by the Centro de Estudios para Análisis de Conflictos (CEAC) estimated that there could be as many as 2.5 million illegal guns in the country.
In August 2014, Representative Carlos Eduardo Guevara submitted a bill to Congress to impose further restrictions on gun control by placing the responsibility of gun control under the Ministry of the Interior.
The proposal suggests that gun permit renewals take place every two years instead of three. In a similar manner it would require gun owners to submit a training certificate, to prove competency with firearm usage. Those with criminal records and those deemed to be be a risk would be denied permits.