February 18, 2007

Guns everywhere

Photo La Prensa, Honduras

Everywhere you look in Honduras, you'll see guns. It's kind of shocking at first. Tourists often comment on it. Armed guards are outside banks, grocery stores, other stores, gas stations, restaurants, government offices, hospitals, inside malls, on delivery trucks, you name it. I doubt if you could walk one block anywhere in downtown La Ceiba without seeing a gun.

It's not just guards who have them. I've been surprised several times while talking to a contractor or delivery person to spy a revolver tucked into the waistband of his pants. Banks and even some restaurants use metal detectors or pat the men down before they enter to make sure they aren't 'packing.'

Lots of people keep guns in their homes for protection. The wealthier people have armed guards outside their homes, some only at night, others 24 hours per day.

Honduras just started registering guns about two years ago. They had an amnesty period where a gun could be registered without proving where it was purchased. They kept extending the period over and over but still less than 200,000 guns have been registered.

Estimates are that there are at least 500,000 guns out there. Who knows how accurate that estimate is. The population of Honduras is estimated to be 7.3 million, of which 40% are 14 or younger. If that gun estimate is correct, that means there is roughly one gun for every nine men and women over the age of 14 in this country.

The police are always confiscating arsenals used in drugs-for-guns trades. The confiscated guns usually "disappear" from police or court custody. More than 950 weapons have disappeared from the Supreme Court evidence room in the past few years. Someone made a few bucks there.

You don't just see them. You hear them, too. I hear one or more gunshots just about every day, usually at night.
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