Commission says an urgent review of Honduran gun laws is needed

The Honduran government is reportedly set to conduct a review of its gun laws in an apparent effort to combat rising violence levels, though equal emphasis will need to be made on addressing endemic corruption and weak institutions to solidify any gains.

Matias Funes, a representative from the independent Commission on Public Security Reform (CRSP), said on October 16 that Honduras’ gun laws are in need of urgent revision if efforts are to be made to combat the country’s endemically high level of violence, reported La Tribuna.

Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said the government agreed a review of the law should be undertaken and that President Porfirio Lobo had asked the he begin conducting one.

Under the existing law, citizens are allowed to own as many as five personal firearms. According to statistics released last month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Honduras’ homicide rate for 2011 was 92 per 100,000, up from 82 the previous year.

“We need to disarm criminals ... and this must be the subject of a very thorough analysis by the government,” Funes declared.

The CRSP began working on June 1, a government initiative created to work toward reforming the country’s security and justice institutions. According to Funes, though the CRSP was given a budget of $2.1 million, it has only received 10 percent of this so far, reported EFE.

InSight Crime Analysis

Along with having the highest homicide rate in the world, Honduras also has one of the highest rates of deaths caused by firearms. According to the Small Arms Survey, the proportion of firearm homicides stood at a little over 80 percent in 2010.

As Funes noted, the high prevalence of gun crime is not only a result of lax gun laws but also the alarming rate of illegal arms flowing through the country. Of the 850,000 weapons estimated to be in circulation last year in Honduras, close to 70 percent were illegal, according to the country’s human rights commission, CONADEH. In one example of this, El Heraldo newspaper last year found that some 3,000 guns had disappeared from government stockpiles from 2002-2006, prompting fears they had made their way on to the black market.

The poor regulatory framework in place has meant Honduras has also become a source for the region’s arms traffickers, with weapons found to have made their way into Guatemala and Mexico, the latter having comparatively strict laws; there is only one gun store in the whole of Mexico.

The government did in fact pass a decree in August that bans civilians from carrying arms in public in northern Colon province in an effort to curb violence in the area. However, this appears to have been more of a politically motivated move due to the selective nature of who the law applies to. The region is the site of an ongoing land conflict between farmers and big business. Farmers are banned from carrying weapons while business security guards are exempt from the law.

Of course, simply banning the sale of guns will not necessarily drive down homicide rates, as InSight Crime has noted. Honduras is one of Central America’s weakest countries in terms of institutional capacity and its security forces are notoriously corrupt. Strengthening institutional capacity and fighting corruption therefore need to be addressed alongside any proposal to decrease the number of arms legally available.

There is evidence that gun control laws can have the desired effect on violence. The Colombian capital Bogota imposed a ban on guns in public spaces in February and has since seen its homicide rate drop 21 percent this year compared to 2011, reaching a 27-year low based on statistics released last month. However, the criminal dynamics of the country (or city) play a vital role also. Medellin implemented its own ban in January yet has seen violence flare in parts of the city thanks to gangs battling for territorial control.

Conducting a thorough review of Honduras’ gun control policy is a vital step toward tackling the country’s violence problem, though this alone will not be enough. The CRSP has the potential to be a crucial instigator for the necessary legal and institutional reforms as the country attempts to extricate itself from rising homicide levels. The fact that it is apparently underfunded, though, raises questions about how sincere the government is about moving toward these goals.