On March 27, eleven days after the first confirmed COVID-19 case, the head of Public Security (Direccion General de Armamento Publica) temporarily suspended all psychological exams and practice tests for those wanting new gun permits. Citing concerns of COVID transmission, all in-person applications and renewals for gun permits are suspended until further notice.
People seeking work as private security guards are especially affected by this new ruling as it renders them unable to work for the foreseeable future, at a time when security companies and individuals are hiring. The demand for licensed security guards has increased since the beginning of the pandemic as people worry about the growing number of unemployed citizens who might resort to robberies and break-ins to put food on their family’s table. Those wanting work as security guards have been frustrated that the offices of the Ministry of Public Security MSP have been closed during the pandemic.
The General Director of arms of MSP, Bill Dimitri Solis Porras, explained, “We continue to conduct business in our offices with a skeleton crew, as most employees are teleworking from home.” He went on to explain that gun permit applications for institutions and private security companies continue to be processed normally. Applications for individuals, which must be conducted in person, have been suspended.
Added Solis, “For me to be sure that you know how to use a fire a gun, and handle one safely, it’s necessary for me to see you in front of me with your gun in your hand. This is not an exam that can be completed virtually.”
Solis explained that in the current COVID-19 situation, some job seekers have been circumventing the firearm application, and working in security with their own weapons. This is illegal, as the permit to own a firearm is not the same as the permit to have one for work. Solis said Costa Rica is now limiting applications for guns for personal protection, as they so often wind up in criminal hands.
According to Minister of Public Security Michael Soto, the MSP will resume accepting and processing gun permits on September 1 of this year. It has not yet been announced when the psychological and physical testing will resume. Firing ranges, gun sales, and gun training academies will also be allowed to resume activities on September 1st.
Costa Rica passed stronger gun laws in 1994 in an attempt to control street guns – guns without permits, although between 2012 and 2017, gun violence grew alarmingly. The Vice Minister of Security commented, “We have observed a strong correlation between firearms and violence in Costa Rica. Up to 68% of homicides involved firearms, and most of the serious crimes also involve guns.”
Having an unregistered firearm in Costa Rica is a serious offense, punishable by a prison sentence. Unfortunately, many guns registered to private security companies in Costa Rica have disappeared in recent years and “might be in the hands of criminals.”
According to the OIJ, between the years 2015-2018, there were 36,820 reported crimes with firearms, yet only 48 of the 442 guns seized by OIJ were licensed. Costa Rica continues to have many guns still on the streets, something of great concern during an already turbulent COVID-19 era.
“A greater quantity of weapons on the street increases the possibility of violence. A weapon in a case of domestic violence increases the risk of femicide, and in a street fight increases the risk of homicide.
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