Uruguay Pushes Proposal to Regulate Guns as Illegal Weapons Proliferate
By Dialogo February 11, 2013
MONTEVIDEO — In Uruguay, which ranks as one of the safest countries in Latin America, gun ownership is unusually high. Some one million firearms — both registered and unregistered — are believed to be circulating in this small country of 3.4 million people sandwiched in between Argentina and Brazil.
In 2011, 6,543 legal weapons entered the country, including 3,128 pistols and 689 handguns — up from 1,485 weapons entering Uruguay in 2007. Yet it’s the explosion of illegal weapons that concerns authorities — especially in a country that had only 5.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, one of the lowest homicide rates in the region, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“There’s a general consensus that the number of weapons is too high,” said Marcelo Barzelli, chief of the communications unit at the Uruguayan Ministry of Internal Affairs, commenting on local media reports that some 600,000 illegal weapons — more than half the total — are now present in the country.
According to the Small Arms Survey, conducted in 2007, Uruguay has 32 civilian firearms per 100 inhabitants, the ninth-highest ratio of gun ownership in the world. For comparison, the top three countries on that list are the United States (89 firearms per 100 people), Yemen (55) and Switzerland (46). No other Latin American country made the top 15 list.
Illegal weapons behind Uruguayan crime wave
Among the reasons for having illegal weapons, Barzelli mentioned an important cultural factor: “Guns are inherited; perhaps they were never registered or the papers got lost along the way.” The ministry’s website says those guns often end up on the illegal weapons market.
Barzelli said those who commit crimes almost always rent or purchase their weapons illegally.
“Furthermore, possession of an unregistered weapon is not a crime but rather an omission,” he said. “Nevertheless, that will change this year with the approval of a law being pushed by the government, to penalize the possession of unregistered weapons.”
Under that law, now before the Uruguayan Parliament, authorities would impose harsh sentences against those caught with such weapons, though it does allow a six-month grace period to give gun owners a chance to either register them or turn them over to the Ministry of Defense’s Equipment and Weapons Service.
The text of the law also defines as illegal “the international smuggling of weapons or the import or export of guns, ammunition, explosives and related materials, which will carry a sentence of three to 12 years in prison.” The penalty for weapons trafficking within Uruguay is two to six years in jail, with sentences increased by one-third if the trafficking is committed by a member of an organized criminal group.
Weapons-exchange program also key
Last November, during a TV interview on the current-events program “Código País,” Internal Affairs Minister Eduardo Bonomi said this law should be enforced along with a weapons-exchange program.
“During talks with other ministers of internal affairs from Mercosur member countries, we have learned that besides relying on this type of law, they have a weapons exchange program through which people can turn in their guns, even if they have legally acquired them,” Bonomi said. “The governments purchase the guns; they pay the people to turn them in. They proudly, and with good reason, talk about the hundreds of thousands of weapons that have been collected.”
When asked about the spike in homicides Uruguay experienced in 2012, Bonomi responded that “experts, not only from the police but also criminologists, teachers and intellectuals alike,” agree that there are too many weapons on the streets of Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities.
In January, Uruguay recorded 30 homicides, including several instances in which shopkeepers and business owners shot attackers during attempted robberies.
Tools For Life
To combat the proliferation of illegal weapons while creating social awareness, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is planning to launch two mass-media campaigns. The first is to promote responsibility among those who want to own a gun. Legal steps are explained and training is recommended so that prospective gun owners learn how to use their weapons safely.
To legally own a gun in Uruguay, one must receive a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and register the weapon with the Ministry of Defense. An Authorization to Purchase and Own Weapons (THATA) is also required. In order to obtain a THATA, the applicant must be 18 or older, possess a certificate of good conduct, pass a medical exam with a psychologist in good standing, submit income records and attend a firearms safety class.
The second is the “Armas para la Vida” [Tools for Life] campaign, through which firearms may be exchanged for bicycles or ceibaitas, which are small laptops designed for Uruguayan children.
The campaign is aimed at those with unregistered weapons who want to get rid of them.
“That segment of the population is very large, and includes those who have an unregistered weapon somewhere in their houses but say they would never use them,” Barzelli told Diálogo. “By giving them the chance to participate in the exchange program, we prevent weapons from being stolen or sold in the illegal market. But we don’t expect criminals to participate in the campaign.”
I am a 74 years old Uruguayan citizen, during 41 of them I lived in Brazil. Recently I visited Montevideo and specially, Villa del Cerro. I respectfully differ from your approach on to the violence issue, blaming it on the increase of guns, because I think that such increase is linked to drug addiction, to drug trafficking and the lack of perspectives of the youth that can't seem to find a worthy occupation. Careful!!!! So that your country doesnâ€™t become a shame like Brazil where only the oppressors or the idlers are free to own weapons. Armed people are safe people, there is respect either by goodness or by the point of a gun. Here in Brazil is different, 99 per cent of the politicians are thieves and criminals, thatâ€™s the reason why they donâ€™t want that the population own weapons, this is a logical thinking. I agree with Mr Clayton Silva, be careful! Read the article here below, this European Union NGO has an absurd concept of democracy, I hope Uruguay treat them with contempt.
MONTEVIDEO, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Uruguay has the world's highest per capita rate of gun ownership, with one out of three Uruguayans owning a firearm, according to figures released Tuesday by the Institute of Legal and Social Studies (IELSUR), a non-governmental organization (NGO).
Up to December 2012, 584,112 guns were registered in Uruguay, and the number of unregistered firearms is expected to double, in a country of just 3.4 million people, the NGO's Luis Pedernera told a local radio station.
The rate is almost as much as in "countries such as Iraq, where there is a latent armed conflict," said Pedernera, adding the prevalence of guns puts Uruguay in the same position as "Colombia and Brazil, where firearms are highly used."
Funded by the European Union, the NGO unveiled a gun-control project this week, which is called "action for a democratic security policy; towards a national plan of civilian disarmament."
The released figures will help Uruguayans "discuss an issue of concern that is barely visible. This issue should really raise our concern," said Pedernera.
The NGO representative said Uruguay's gun-ownership laws "need to be aligned with international standards" to send the message that "firearms are not a right of the people, but a tool of the state for specific actions".
"We have to include the issue in the Uruguayan agenda, because this will have a positive effect on quality of life," he said.
Uruguay's Congress is currently debating a bill that would punish illegal possession of guns and trafficking in firearms. According to research done by â€œViva Brasilâ€ movement, the countries which possess more arms are the safest ones to live in; there is no connection between an armed country and a violent country. Letâ€™s take Switzerland as an example which ranks the 3rd place as the most armed country for inhabitants in the world, or Israel. What creates violence is culture, or the lack of it, the lack of perspectives, the peopleâ€™s indignation when they are subdued by corrupt politicians who prohibit good honest citizens to be well armed to defend themselves, instead they have to be escorted by heavily armed government agents and need to protect their homes with security, and worse of all, funded by tax-payers money. This is a shame. Iâ€™ve been in the military for 20 years and I have several restrictions to walk with a gun. When I retire I intend to move to Uruguay. That is all the more reason for law abiding citizens to own guns to defend themselves, their families and their homes and property.
Why don't they worry first about disarming the thieves. The policy really do know who are the home invaders in each neighborhood they should come at them with search warrants and take the thieves' weapons away, not the working peoples'. And they should make sentences harsher if you commit homicide during a home invasion or takeover, death penalty. And minors should be sentenced as adults and there you have it, everything gets fixed really quickly In all countries where socialism was attempted, the people were disarmed, and then massacred and enslaved. Regulating guns takes guns from law abiding citizens - but criminals will always be armed. I think everyone in Uruguay should have the right to bare arms and also be allowed to have the right to open carry and that would definatly stop the drug addicts from shooting innocent shop owners for there money and just people in jenoral from being robed or killed bye these drug addicts or just even theives from robing you. I live in Uruguay and you will be prosecuted for shooting someone on your property, even in your home, unless you show your life was in imminent danger. Defending property by shooting someone will result in you going to jail. only with right to consealed carry, otherwise this is a bad idea - criminals will know who have guns and who aren't