I just arrived in Cali yesterday and I cannot think of a more exciting time to work on gun-related issues in Colombia. In the past few weeks, municipal governments have been implementing a variety of ambitious disarmament campaigns, whose media coverage, which includes leading newspapers and magazines from left to right, is remarkable.
Bogotá and Cali’s municipalities have been particularly active in the past few weeks. Bogotá’s campaign, “Amar es desarmarte” (To love is to disarm) includes pedagogical work in neighborhoods, artistic performances and a program to swap weapons for vouchers of up to 300,000 pesos (150$US). The District Administration of Bogotá also banned the carrying of arms in the capital, including for those who have gun licenses, for 10 days until July 3rd. The authorities aim to reduce violent deaths by up to 13%. In May, Cali launched “El Plan Desarme” which prohibited the bearing of arms for a month. According to the police, 128 firearms were confiscated during that period.
These campaigns, which have been going on since 1996, have not, however, been sufficient to address the devastating impact of weapons, as figures of the National Institute of Legal Medicine show. The murder rate in Bogotá, one of the highest in the world with 21 per 100,000 inhabitants, is still below other Colombian cities like Cali, with a rate of 67 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Andres Restrepo, Assistant Secretary of the municipal government of Bogotá, emphasized to Semana that these campaigns are part of “an effort to ‘remove’ from the collective consciousness …that through the use of arms one can resolve conflicts.” Restrepo noted that there is an estimated three to four million firearms in Colombia, of which only one million are legal; he also added that there is no precise data about the illegal market.
Clara Lopez, Secretary of the municipal government of Bogotá, reported to El Espectador that “in over 16 citizen disarmament campaigns, there have been delivered 6369 guns, 91,111 rounds of ammunition and 651 explosive devices.”
“Disarmament is a public necessity, because the more weapons are held by the public, whether legal or illegal, the more insecurity there is, and the more likely crime, homicide, robbery and personal injury will occur. Arms are used as a form of domination over others; they rule out dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts. Disarmament is a national imperative”, she added.
Guns are even becoming an electoral issue, though a minor one. The Liberal presidential hopeful and former Chief Prosecutor Alfonso Gómez Mendez told El Tiempo that if elected President, he would impose general disarmament in the country. Although he is only a minor candidate and not the favorite of the party, his strong position on the issue is still noteworthy. <
This is an approximate translation of his speech to El Tiempo: “Not a day goes by without us hearing on the radio, seeing on television or reading in the newspapers that citizens, innocent citizens, are victims of what we have come to call the ‘stray bullets.’ This is a result of the fact that many people own arms in this country. If I become president, I will implement a policy of general disarmament. The only people who can use weapons are members of the police, the army and State security forces, but citizens have no reason to be armed. I will regain the State’s monopoly of the use of arms. We citizens must trust them and cease to bear arms.”
Stay tuned for the next blog post about how women are being killed by those who love them most because of the presence of guns in their homes!