Bolivia has enacted its first firearms legislation, which may be unlikely to have a dramatic impact on the country’s already low murder rate, but will at least provide the state with the tools to tackle arms trafficking.
Laying out strict limitations on who can own a weapon, the Firearms, Munitions, Explosives and Other Materials Control Law was passed on September 18 — four years after it was first proposed in 2009 — reported El Diario.
The legislation sets a six month period for current gun owners to register or turn in weapons before becoming subject to a maximum six year sentence for ownership or five year sentence for carrying an illegal weapon, with longer sentences for military-grade weapons, reported Los Tiempos. It also establishes a maximum 30 year sentence for any member of the security forces caught trafficking arms.
As well as regulating arms, the law allows for the production of “any kind” of weapon at the request of the armed forces or police, pending approval from the interior and defense ministries, reported La Razon.
Although there are no official figures on civilian gun ownership, international firearms observatory Gun Policy reports 260,000 civilian firearms are in circulation, legal and illegal.
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While gun homicides statistics are not available for Bolivia, according to the Organization of American States (OAS) 2012 Report on Citizen Security in the Americas, the country has the fourth lowest intentional homicide rate in mainland Latin America — behind Chile, Argentina and Uruguay — based on 2010 figures. Nevertheless, as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted in its 2011 Global Study on Homicide, the homicide rate in Bolivia has risen in recent years — from 6.5 per 100,000 in 2005 to 8.9 in 2010, while the most recent figures released by the government recording a rate of 11 per 100,000.
Although the introduction of a strict new gun law places Bolivia at the forefront of firearms legislation — a hot topic in the region’s two most violent countries, Honduras and Venezuela — research suggests that such legislation alone does not guarantee a reduction in gun violence.
However, it will at least introduce a legal framework for tackling arms trafficking, which in the past has been linked to both Bolivian security forces and foreign groups. In this area, it is particularly notable that the new law establishes such tough penalties for arms trafficking carried out by security forces, which have a reputation for endemic corruption and have been linked to organized crime.