In Midst of Gun Control Debate, Bolivia Breaks Up Arm Trafficking Ring

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Bolivian police dismantled an arms trafficking network reportedly run by a former soldier, just as the government is discussing drafting a law that would increase penalties for smuggling weapons.

Police seized 31 weapons as part of the operation, including machine guns, rifles, bazookas, and over 3,600 bullets, reports Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos. The former soldier who ran the smuggling network trafficked weapons from suppliers in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, the Bolivian minister of government told the newspaper. Two arrests have been made so far and one suspect is still thought to be at large.

Police said they were able to discover the arms smuggling network by tracing the registry numbers of several small arms used during robberies in La Paz. 

The bust comes just as the Bolivian government is discussing a new proposal for a national gun control law, drafted by the Defense Ministry. The proposal asks for a minimum of 30 years in prison for military and police personnel who traffic weapons, according to La Razon. Civilians found guilty of illegally trafficking weapons would receive a sentence of  five to 15 years. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Bolivia currently has no arms and ammunition control law. There have been multiple attempts to pass a national firearms law through Congress since 2002, all of which have failed. The Defense Ministry proposal is just the latest attempt to pressure Congress to take up the issue again. The Defense Ministry is currently in charge of regulating Bolivia’s weapons industry, although its regulations have been criticized as lax.

This lack of controls has made Bolivia vulnerable to arms trafficking. In 2010, US authorities arrested two men, including a US citizen and a Bolivian, accused of conspiring to traffic firearms bought in Florida gun stores to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Santa Cruz is a well-known hotbed for criminal activity, and has served as a shelter for Colombian and Brazilian criminal groups. 

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