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Spotlight on Guns in Colombia

Rebecca Gerome | PostedJuly 1st, 2009 | Latin America

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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!

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7 Responses to “Spotlight on Guns in Colombia”

  1. Hana says:

    Greg,
    While you feel like your right is threatened by people who are trying to limit access to guns, these said guns are taking away lives of adults and innocent children. And I think we should put the lives of children above any of our rights.

    To your point: How is arresting somebody a solution to unjustified killings? If somebody kills your kid or your relative or friend “by accident” I am sure you will feel that everything is ok once that somebody gets arrested.

    These are human lives at stake, it is not a game of monopoly.

    There is a great book written by Geoffrey Canada called Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun : Personal History of Violence in America
    It is about kids that live with the threat of being shot every day. In the same America where you feel you are entitled to own a gun.

  2. Greg says:

    I cannot believe these posts, or the content of this article for that matter. All people who are afraid of guns shouldn’t have one, PERIOD! If you’d shot or killed someone that didn’t threaten your life, family members or property, then you should be arrested. All that don’t apply should have every right to self defense. Quiero incluir mis hermanos armada in mi querida Colombia! Viva la libertad de Cali y todos en este pais tan espectacular!! The wingnuts who have relentlessly fought to take away our second ammendment rights have now shifted focus toward other countries in hopes of lowering #’s killed to begin the propoganda machine against 2nd ammendment.

  3. wbosworth1 says:

    It will be interesting to see how the summer unfolds in Cali, Colombia. In the North End section of Hartford Connecticut (USA) gun violence is so intense that children are not allowed to play outside, grocery stores and other forms of commerce have disappeared from the city, and property values have plummeted. A poll taken by the Interfaith Co-alliance for Social Justice found that crime and violence is a greater concern among the poor who live there than the absence of access to health care.

    Your reference to studies that show that marginalized, disenfranchised people feel empowered by guns is certainly supported in the United States. The poor in Hartford are almost inevitably the perpetrators and the victims of gun violence. Although a smaller portion of gun violence in America is directed at women, anti-gun advocacy is just as badly needed in the U.S. cities as it is in Cali. I’ll be eager to see what your activities are in Cali and learn how effective they turn out to be. Good luck!

  4. Nancy Workman says:

    Again, your work makes me think of the murder trial on which I just served. The defendant would have been the victim of a theft if he had not habitually carried a knife he knew all too well how to use, but he wouldn’t be headed for prison for second-degree murder for killing the thief’s accomplice. Carrying a weapon for “self-defense” didn’t work out too well in his case.

  5. ted says:

    Defenders of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution (which, in theory, permits all citizens to posses a gun) say that if you make everyone give up their guns, that leaves only criminals with guns, suggesting that good citizens will be defenseless against the bad guys. However, it always seemed to me that this would draw a better line so it would be easier to know who the bad guys are. Self defense that involves guns is already a problem.

  6. Sarah says:

    Changing cultural norms is a hard task! I can relate because of my work in breastfeeding education…here in France it is just not considered (breastfeeding) something that everyone does so it isn’t a norm thus many women don’t do it. Whereas in a country such as Norway, it is common to see women breastfeeding in public, mothers and sister do it, and it is considered something normal. Carrying guns and using them to resolve problems seems to be a cultural norm in Colombia so it is going to take great cultural change to move away from this model. It is so cool that you are arriving to work on this project in Colombia during what is hopefully a paradigm shift!

  7. Frances says:

    Glad to see that you’ve arrived safely! I look forward to following your adventures via this blog.

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Fellow: Rebecca Gerome

Colectivo Mujeres Pazificas in Colombia


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