As congress debates new legislation regarding firearms, authorities in Honduras have publicly responded to the recent publication of an InSight Crime investigation on firearms trafficking in the country, outlining some of the steps they are taking to improve their weapons control efforts.*
In a press release dated August 30, the Honduran National Police addressed several points raised by InSight Crime’s recent investigation, which highlighted the role firearms play in Honduras’ high levels of violence and crime.
One issue clarified by the press release is the number of legal weapons recorded by the National Firearms Registry (Registro Nacional de Armas – RNA). According to the police, the RNA has a database of 159,928 legally registered arms as of July 30.
When InSight Crime and our partner, the Association for a More Just Society (Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa – ASJ), visited the RNA office in May 2015, “the head of the RNA was unable to produce an exact count” of the number of weapons registered by the agency, “saying only that his office had registered ‘about 550,000’ weapons.”
However, when we followed up with the Security Ministry in May 2017, the ministry’s communications director told us that the government had registered 325,000 weapons.
According to the press release, the RNA is “fulfilling its duties in the center, north, and south of the country, and soon will open a new office on the Atlantic coast.”
The police also addressed the issue of the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), which is used to compare firearms ballistics data for criminal forensic investigations.
InSight Crime’s investigation found problems with the way the system was being used, including incidents where authorities were “incorrectly registering the ballistics fingerprints of bullet samples, which cost them nearly eight years of data.”
Moreover, we reported that the police had allowed their license for the IBIS system to lapse during our investigation, meaning “they frequently could not access the centralized database and upload the new microscopic images they had captured.” We requested information about whether the license was renewed, but did not receive a response.
Now, the police say that the IBIS system is “functioning in an efficient manner,” with more than 53,000 ballistic signatures currently available for comparison. The press release adds that beginning in January 2018, the police will be able to use the IBIS system to produce expert forensic reports, counting on the work of “ballistics researchers trained abroad who will be able to execute these delicate functions.”
The police also addressed InSight Crime’s reporting about various amnesties offered by the government “that allow those with illegal weapons to register them with the authorities without facing sanctions.” Our investigation showed that this lengthy and complicated process often contributes to citizens’ decisions to avoid purchasing or registering their firearms through legal channels.
The press release does not necessarily dispute these conclusions, but it does say that the amnesties have been carried out in a transparent and rigorous manner. (See the original press release below.)
The Honduran congress is currently considering a legislative proposal to establish new classes of firearms licenses — one for home firearm possession and another for carrying firearms in public — as well as to restrict gun ownership to one firearm per person.
InSight Crime Analysis
While InSight Crime’s investigation found that Honduran authorities face many serious challenges in their efforts to control the flow of illicit firearms both into and within the country, the National Police’s response shows that the institution is attempting to address some of these issues.
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As we wrote in our investigation, “contradictory legal statutes, corruption, malfeasance and bureaucracy fuel the local black market in Honduras.” These issues will not be easy to fix, and will require sustained and serious efforts to reform deeply flawed systems and practices relating to investigations into firearms trafficking, as well as the use of these weapons in criminal activities.
Addressing issues related to the databases used to track the hundreds of thousands of guns circulating in the country would be a positive first step.
* This article has been updated to reflect that Honduran lawmakers are currently considering a legislative proposal related to firearms.