Illegal Firearms Arrests Highlight Lax Private Security Regulation in Guatemala

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Between two and three private security guards are arrested for possession of illegal arms each week in Guatemala City, according to a new report, highlighting concerns over the lack of regulation of the country’s numerous private security firms.

Public prosecutors in Guatemala City see between two and three cases a week related to the arrest of a private security guards for possession of an unlawful firearm, reported Prensa Libre.

The confiscated weapons are turned over to the National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF), which tests the weapons to see if the ballistics match those from past crimes. So far these tests have revealed that each month between one and two of the confiscated weapons is found to have been used in previous crimes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Unable to rely on the country’s understaffed, often corrupt police force, many businesses operating in Guatemala have turned to private security firms to protect their employees and establishments from violent crime and attempted extortion by criminal groups. According to an AFP report, private security guards outnumber police four to one in Guatemala. 

However, while private security may be an unfortunate necessity for companies looking to do business in Guatemala, there is growing concern over the industry’s lack of oversight and the possibility of guards’ involvement in illegal activities, particularly arms trafficking. The are an estimated 1 million arms circulating in the country, around 80 percent of which are unlicensed. The majority of weapons seized in Guatemala are often trafficked from Honduras, whose lax gun laws have made it the center of Central America’s booming illegal arms trade.

Guatemalan authorities are trying to be more aggressive about regulating the private security industry, passing a law in 2010 that required security firms to register with the Interior Ministry and explicitly prohibited active military personnel from working with private companies in any form. As of February of this year, however, only two of the country’s estimated 150 private security firms had even begun the registration process.

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