Gun ownership by Ecuadorians is lowest in Latin America and experts don’t expect that to change
Ecuadorians own fewer guns per capita than their counterparts in any other Latin American country. According to a survey by the Swiss Small Arms Project, private gun ownership in Ecuador is 2.4 per 100 inhabitants. Two other surveys, by Insight Crime and Wise Voter, put the number slightly higher, at 2.6 and 2.7 per 100.
By contrast, a composite survey shows Venezuelans own 19 guns per 100 with Paraguayans and Hondurans following at 17 and 14. In neighboring Colombia, gun ownership is 11 per 100 residents.
The world leader in gun ownership is the U.S. with 120 guns per 100 followed by Yemen at 53.
The Insight Crime survey reports that 58% of firearms owned by Ecuadorians are not registered and says there is little official effort to enforce gun registration laws. “Typical of most Latin American countries, monitoring of gun ownership is a very low priority for the government,” it said. “In 2021, only 13 fines were issued for unregistered firearms and all of these were the result of other crime investigations.”
Renaldo Molina, former executive of security company Wackenhut Ecuador, says he is not surprised by the numbers. “Among most Ecuadorians, there is little interest in owning firearms and most people don’t consider them important for self-defense,” he said. “We don’t have a tradition here of sports shooting or hunting like they do in Argentina and Uruguay, which also depresses the numbers.”
Although Molina opposes President Guillermo Lasso recent decree relaxing rules for private gun ownership, he doesn’t expect it will change the numbers. “It was symbolic but I don’t think it will have much impact. Some people seemed to be upset by it but they shouldn’t worry.”
According to Molina, guns are available “informally” to anyone who wants one. “Many of these sales were done in the open before 2011 when new ownership restrictions began,” he said. “Since then, they are mostly done in backrooms but there is very little enforcement of the rules.” He asks: “Why go through the bureaucracy to buy a gun when you can get one from the corner hardware store?”
Instead of arming citizens, former National Police commander Juan Santos says the government should focus its efforts on guns arriving from Colombia and Peru. “This is a distraction in many ways since most of Ecuador’s crime problem is coming in from across the border. The guns used by the mafias and the gangs come in easily, especially from Colombia.”
Like Molina, Santos does not think increased gun ownership will affect the crime rate. “It might make a few people feel good but until we have a more sophisticated approach to stopping drug crime and combating the corruption that facilitates it, it will not make much of a difference.”