Latin America Has Fewer Guns

The news in Latin America this year has brought two reminders that Latin America’s stringent gun controls have not stemmed the growing homicide problem in many parts of the region.

The first is that homicides reached new highs in Mexico this year, reaching record levels not seen since the country began keeping records twenty years ago.

Secondly, violent crime became a significant issue in this year’s presidential race, with president-elect Jair Bolsonaro running on a platform of fighting crime, pledging to “use the army” if need be.

In both cases, crime continues to soar in spite of the fact that that both Brazil and Mexico are anything but what we might call “laissez-faire” when it comes to gun ownership. Indeed, both employ stringent gun control regimes — as do most of Latin America’s states.

These fact have long presented a problem for advocates of gun control, of course, since their arguments often rely on the idea that reducing gun ownership will bring lower crime rates.

Fewer Guns — More Crime?

Looking at gun laws, of course, only tell us some of the story when it comes to the prevalence of civilian firearms in a society. One must also take a look at illicitly-owned firearms, and the total number of firearms to be found overall.

In this years’ update to the Small Arms Survey, published by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, we find that civilian gun prevalence — legal and illegal — is not especially widespread in Latin America, even by European standards.

Source: Small Arms Survey.

For example, according to the Survey’s estimates, there are only 12.9 civilian guns per 100 people in Mexico. Brazil’s total is even smaller, at 8.3 per 100 people.

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