By Julio Mejía
EspañolIn Colombia, there is such hatred toward guns that Congress is currently debating new legislation that could include a ban on non-lethal weapons for personal defense. In a country with such a tragically violent history, suggesting citizens be allowed to carry firearms is beyond politically incorrect; it’s heresy.
However, Bogotá offers an interesting case. A gun ban in effect since February 2012 has achieved the opposite of its goal. Despite the inherent controversy, it begs the question: have gun-control laws improved security in the nation’s capital?
A society with armed citizens is not necessarily a violent one. For example, in the United States, New Hampshire and Wyoming boast gun-ownership rates of 30 percent and 59.7 percent, respectively. However, the murder rate in these states is quite low: only between 1 and 2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
On the other hand, in Washington, DC, the gun-ownership rate is 3 percent, while the homicide rate is 15.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The situation in Bogotá is revealing. Crime is rarely evenly distributed throughout a city, and is usually concentrated in certain areas. According to statistics from the Bogotá Mayor’s Office, out of the 19 localities in Bogotá, 62 percent of the homicides in 2013 took place in only six.
Despite the gun-control laws in force in the city, the homicide rate increased slightly between 2013 and 2014, from 16.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants to 17.4. Armed robberies during the first half of 2014 increased by 9 percent compared to the same period the previous year.
This is clear evidence that disarming the residents of La Castellana, for example, does little to nothing to curb violence, since murders are taking place in other parts of the city, like the neighborhoods of Ciudad Bolívar and Kennedy.
When the government enacts new controls on gun ownership, it is lawful citizens, not criminals, who abide by the new rules. City officials understand this well, and even before enacting stricter gun laws, they estimated that 95 percent of all homicides were committed with illegal firearms.
In other words, the illegal-weapons market is so large in the city, that preventing citizens from using a firearm for personal defense is a useless effort. Guns for protection are not the weapons causing the violence.
The illegal-weapons market is not unlike the illegal-drugs market. Prohibitions do not eradicate supply and demand, but instead open a path for black markets under the control of criminal groups. Their restricted access to the court system drives criminals to solve their conflicts through violence.
In fact, the black market for weapons has reached such levels of sophistication, that with just COL$50,000 (roughly US$18) you can rent a gun, making it affordable for small-time crooks.
Nevertheless, the drop in crime rates between 2011 and 2012 in Bogotá convinced officials that gun control was a success. The truth is, however, that the decrease in homicides actually occurred between December 2011 and January 2012, before the gun restrictions were in effect.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that between 2011 and 2012, the police managed to achieve a substantial decrease in crime by focusing their efforts on certain areas of the city and increasing their capture rate of suspected murders.
Despite all the evidence against gun control, the government insists that curbing gun possession will decrease the number of murders. It is irresponsible for the government to disarm citizens based on hunches or ideological whims. Not allowing citizens to defend themselves only makes things easier for criminals.