As Panama deals with rising crimes rates, increased gang activity, and forged gun permits, the government is about to lift the ban of imported firearms. The Public Safety Minister Rudolfo Aguilera said this is an effort to increase personal safety, and that more firearms will mean less crime.
“We will follow in the footsteps of the United States and Switzerland, where the right to bear arms is believed to lead to fewer homicides. Everything seems to indicate that there is no direct correlation in the aphorism that says more guns mean more crime,” said Aguilera, who explained that relaxed gun laws have helped the United States to reduce the homicide rate over the last 20 years. He added that the new regulations will include criminal and psychological background checks for future gun owners. “I have concluded that it is necessary and appropriate for the country to allow imports of weapons again,” said Aguilera in an interview with NexTV News.
His decision was made based on foreign statistics showing that with a greater number of legal firearms possession, there is less crime recorded. Aguilera also said that this leaves the job of the personal security in the hands of civilians, politicians, lawyers, and security experts.
The current law has been in effect since 2012 and states that only state security forces can import firearms. Easing this restriction would enable licensed vendors to import firearms and accessories.
The Central American Integration System (SICA) has called for a comprehensive review of Panama’s firearm-import program before any official action can be taken by the National Assembly.
“It’s a decision for each sovereign government to make, but we should take into account that for criminals, anything that is prohibited, becomes more attractive,” said Hefer Morataya, director of SICA’s Central American Program of Small Arms Control.
However, not everyone agrees that more guns will benefits Panama. Teresita de Arias, former congresswoman and leader of the People’s Party said that lifting the ban on gun imports could backfire on the Panamanian people.
“The issue of security will not be solved because every citizen has a weapon to defend themselves.” She believes that Aguilera’s comment about the U. S. homicide rates differ from reality, adding that the United States itself struggles with the issue of gun control. She added that this action could lead to situations where a simple fight in the street could result in both parties taking out a gun. There is also the threat of increased theft of firearms, which will only serve to put more guns in the hands of criminals.
According to the Ministry of Security, in the first three months of 2015, Panama registered 165 homicides, 70% of which were committed with a firearm.
“There is no registry of the firearms that come in, much less, exact data of how many there are,” said Security Vice-Minister Rogelio Donadio. “Illegal weapons trafficking does not generate as much profit as drugs, but it does threaten citizen security.”
Rolando Mirones, former director of the National Police, stated that resuming the importation of firearms will do nothing to solve the problem of security in the country. The main problem facing the government right now on the issue of security is not solved by allowing importation but to implement measures for more effective crime prevention techniques.
In 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that there was an average of 700,000 illegal firearms circulating through Panama’s streets.