The project that reforms the current Weapons Law is getting closer to becoming law of the Republic, but it is valid to ask: Is this reform really the solution to our problems? and is it really the answer that citizens are looking for to feel safer?
Roberto Spencer U. – Florencia Giusti C.
In recent times, the country has witnessed a drastic increase in armed crime, fueled by a growing presence of organized crime financed mainly by drug trafficking. This has raised an interest in the Legislation to continue regulating matters related to gun control to counteract this increase in gun violence.
It is in this context that the reform of the current Weapons Law (Law Nº 17.798) was discussed. The main objectives are the following:
- To state more precisely what are the requirements to possess and carry firearms and their ammunition.
- Extend the faculties of the police and detectives for arm control.
- Achieve traceability of weapons and ammunition by means of ballistic DNA.
- To be more rigorous with the legal distribution of modified weapons.
As for the requirements for registering a firearm, the following are added to the current ones: /i/ the requirement to take a course of firearms maintenance and handling, /ii/ accreditation of the applicant´s physical and psychological aptitude, now before the Superintendence of Health, and /iii/ accreditation of the origin of the funds with which the firearm or ammunition is purchased.
The following are added to the powers of the Carabineros and PDI:
- Power to supervise with greater demand shotting ranges, firing ranges, arm repair or manufacturing depots.
- Incorporation of the investigative police in inspection tasks.
- Extension, with no time limit, of the supervision tasks of the Order and Security Forces in the inquiry proceedings assigned to them by the Public Prosecutor´s Office.
One of the most important points added with the reform is the traceability of arms and ammunition. First, thanks to the traceability in the purchase of arms and ammunition, it will be possible to have exact knowledge about the place where it was purchased and, secondly, through what is called a ballistic DNA registry; in the current legislation only the serial number and the first shot of the weapon are registered, soon and thanks to the incorporation of this registry it will be possible to know with certainty which was the exact weapon that fired a certain ammunition.
Another essential point of the project is traceability in the purchase and sale of ammunition, which will make it possible to know exactly where the ammunition fired by a given weapon was acquired, which is particularly useful.
The merit that this update of the Weapons Law (Law No. 17.798) will bring with it should not be ignored. However, it should not be forgotten that one of the main problems we are facing today, is not the legal possession of weapons by citizens who comply with the legislation when registering their firearms (being a total of 733 thousand weapons duly registered until 2019), but on the contrary, the problem is that there is an increase, more than considerable, in the possession of illegal or unregistered weapons. It is not known precisely how many unregistered illegal weapons are currently circulating in Chile, according to some studies these could exceed 2 million, nor is it known how many weapons have been able to illegally enter our country, nor how many have already been illegally acquired within Chile. However, it is known that armed crime has increased in recent years. And therefore it must be added to the amount of made or modified weapons, manufactured by the criminals themselves, whose identification and traceability is becoming more complex.
By way of comparison, in the U.S., the states with the most restrictions on gun control do not tend to be the states with the lowest rates of gun violence, as is the case in California or the District of Columbia (both leading states with strict gun control laws), while in most states where gun control legislation is moderate, gun crime rates are drastically lower. On the other hand, the almost total freedom at the time of gun control also produces negative effects, as has been demonstrated in the case of the states of Texas and Florida (both states completely opposite to California or Columbia, but with rates not very different).
Therefore, it is possible to question whether the efforts that have been made with the proposed reform have really gone in the right direction, or more importantly, whether these proposals would attack the real problem if approved. Undoubtedly, innovative contributions such as “ballistic DNA” promise to be a great advance. But if in the near future, civilians are required to meet greater requirements to register a weapon and there is no effective campaign against illegal arms smuggling and illegal black market commercialization of these weapons, the result may be a civil society that leaves its citizens defenseless against possible crimes against them and their property.
In conclusion, although the measures adopted are a step forward, they are insufficient and eventually counterproductive if, in a complementary manner, a more efficient policy and legislative amendments are not developed at the time of preventive detection, control, increased traceability and drastic punishment of criminality. A gun by itself does not generate crime, although it opens a door to commission, but behind every misuse of a gun there is a criminal or a criminal gang that has developed an entire operating system. Preventing crime and educating the population are measures that must be taken in addition to legislative measures such those mentioned above.