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article imageGo directly to jail: Guatemala passes tough new gun law

By John Sevigny     Sep 5, 2013 in World
Guatemala City - Even as homicide rates fall, Guatemala has enacted strict measures which will send anyone caught carrying a firearm straight to jail until trial.
Insight Crime reported that the Central American nation's congress approved an amendment to the criminal code that would eliminate house arrest in favor of pre-trial detention for people caught carrying guns without authorization.
The pre-trial provision, which will imprison people before they've been convicted, also applies to other crimes including homicide and kidnapping.
The General Directory of Arms and Munitions estimates that there are as many as 900,000 unregistered firearms in circulation in Guatemala, a situation government officials believe leads to violent crime.
At the same time, after a 2009 peak of 6,498 homicides in one year, killings fell to 5,174 in 2012.
"We have improved coordination between the state prosecutor's office and the police," Guatemala's Vice-Minister of Security Arkel Benitez told Reuters, explaining the drop in homicides.
Nonetheless, Guatemala remains a violent country. In June, near Quetzaltenango, suspected members of an organized crime group ambushed a police station, killing eight officers and kidnapping a ninth.
Guatemala is a lush, green nation of jungles, Mayan ruins and unspoiled beaches. But the U.S. State Department warns visitors that it can be far more dangerous than it may appear.
"Guatemala is a developing country characterized by wide income disparities," according to the State Department's Web site. "Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and weak law enforcement and judicial systems."
Officials supporting the tough gun laws hope the measure will help continue the downward homicide trend.
More about Guatemala, Gun control, Central america, Weapons
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