The right to own weapons for personal use, not prohibited by the law, in the place of habitation, is recognized. There will not be an obligation to hand them over, except in cases ordered by a competent judge. The right to bear arms is recognized, [and is] regulated by the law.
Guatemala Constitution, Article 38: Possessing and Bearing of Arms (PDF)
Guatemala is one of only three countries with a constitutional right to bear arms for its citizens: United States, Mexico and Guatemala. Like Mexico, this right is restricted, but not nearly as heavily as Mexico’s constitutional right to bear arms.
A licence is required to own firearms legally. Applicants must provide proof they do not suffer from mental illness, are not deserters from the Guatemalan military or any police force, and do not have a criminal record.
If a firearm will be carried in public for self-protection, a special government approval is required and the individual must be a minimum of 25 years old.
Personal security services is a thriving business across Latin America, and Guatemala is no exception. The nation boasts six times as many private security contractors than police officers – 19,900 police officers vs 120,000 private security guards.
In Guatemala, firearms are divided into three main classes [PDF]:
- military or for the exclusive use of the Guatemalan Army
- for use by the security forces and public order of the State
- for individual use and handling, for civilian use, for sports, for collection or for museums.
Automatic firearms are restricted to the police, military and security forces.
Mere citizens may own revolvers and semi-automatic pistols of any calibre, as well as pump action, bolt-action, lever-action semi-automatic, back-loading and muzzle-loading rifles and shotguns.
There is no limit on the number of firearms a licenced individual may own.
Ammunition purchasing is restricted to 200 rounds per month for licenced individuals. Those with carry permits are allowed an additional 50 rounds per month.
A 2017 report showed 553,028 individuals were licensed to own firearms, with 60,658 of those holding carry permits.
Guatemala Arms and Ammunition Law DECREE NUMBER 15-2009 [PDF]
The Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala recognizes the right to possess and carry non-prohibited weapons for personal use in accordance with what is regulated in a specific law.
It is the duty of the State to exercise control over those who have and carry weapons to guarantee due respect for life, physical integrity, freedom, security and justice for all the inhabitants of the Republic, as supreme values inherent in human beings and recognized in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.
The proliferation of firearms in Guatemalan society puts the life and physical integrity of the majority of the inhabitants of the Republic at risk, due to the relationship between violent acts and firearms, which makes it necessary to regulate the forms and means by which a person can exercise their rights to possess and carry firearms, in accordance with the provisions of this Law.
Guatemala promised to generate the legislative measures necessary to eradicate the illicit traffic in firearms and ammunition and establish the corresponding control and penalty as a signatory to the United Nations conventions against Transnational Organized Crime.
Homicides and the Illegal Drug Trade
Like Mexico, much of Guatemala’s violence is tied to the illegal drug trade.
Guatemala is one of the world’s most violent countries, with 32.3 deaths by firearm per 100,000 residents. In 2016, Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, had the dubious honour of being home to the 9th most homicides of any city worldwide. An estimated 80% of all murders in Guatemala are committed using a firearm.
The General Directory of Arms and Munitions estimates there are more than a million unregistered firearms in circulation in Guatemala – roughly double the 574,000 legal firearms registered to licenced owners. The ration of legal to illegal firearms estimated in a 2007 World Bank Report suggests the number of illegal firearms in circulation could be as many as seven times higher than the General Directory estimated.
Between January 2014 and June 2017, the Policía Nacional Civil, Guatemala’s national police force, seized 16,491 firearms, mostly pistols and revolvers. A fraction of the seized weapons were fragmentation grenades, AK-47, AR15 rifles, and submachine guns.
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said that 40 percent of the guns seized in Guatemala between 2006 and 2009 came from the United States. This data was compiled using e-Trace, a system Guatemala stopped using in 2011, so they no longer have access to tracing data.
Francisco Jiménez Irungaray, Guatemala’s Interior Minister between 2008 and 2009, says the police have focused on seizing guns but that they have no capacity to investigate where they come from nor to stop the trafficking.
“The issue of arms trafficking is not being looked at. It is not a priority,” Irungaray said.
“Organized crime cartels operate in Mexico that supply firearms to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” says Francisco Rivas, Minister of the Interior of Guatemala. “Many of those weapons stay here, but many others go to El Salvador and Honduras.”
The Public Ministry says three main groups are responsible for Guatemala’s illegal arms trade: organized crime syndicates, drug cartels, and former members of the military and police. The latter is arguably the most dangerous of the three, as they have the greatest ability to move weapons, drugs and money.
Porous borders with Mexico, El Salvador and Hunduras are also blamed for much of the gun smuggling and nobody seems able to stop the flow of illegal guns into or out of the country.