President Guillermo Lasso has authorized the carrying and use of firearms by Ecuadorian civilians. In a Saturday night tv broadcast, the president cited rising crime as the reason for rolling back 12-year-old rules that make it almost impossible for private citizens to legally own guns.
Lasso and Ecuador have been fighting an uphill battle against rising crime and violence in the country’s streets and prisons, which the government blames on drug trafficking gangs. The vast majority of the gang activity is occurring in the country’s coastal region, particularly near the port cities of Guayaquil, Manta, Esmeraldas and Machala.
In addition to the crime fight, Lasso faces the threat of impeachment in the country’s National Assembly, where a majority accuses him of embezzlement, accusations he has denied.
Ecuador’s Constitutional Court gave the Assembly the green light last week to proceed with a trial against the president.
Following his Saturday night address to the nation, several of Lasso’s opponents in the National Assembly accused him of “attempting to gain favor with the public.” In recent months, crime and insecurity have become the number one issue with citizens according to several opinion polls.
“We have a common enemy: petty crime, drug trafficking, and organized crime,” Lasso said late on Saturday in a message also posted on Twitter. “We’ve modified the decree that allows the possession and carrying of guns. In other words, in general terms … the possession and carrying of guns for civilian use in personal defense is authorized, in accordance with the requirements of law and regulations,” he said.
Civilians will also be allowed to legally carry and use pepper spray for personal protection, Lasso said, although stores have been selling the spray to the public for several years.
Lasso’s move rolls back requirements instituted by former President Rafael Correa in 2011 that made gun ownership nearly impossible except for farmers who needed them to protect their livestock.
The president also declared a state of emergency in Guayaquil and the neighboring towns of Duran and Samborondon, as well as in Santa Elena and Los Rios Provinces. The state of emergency, which began on Sunday, will include a curfew in the affected regions from 1 a.m. until 5 in the morning.
Lasso did not say how long the state of emergency would last.
In other anti-crime action, Lasso expanded the authorization for the military to assist police in the fight against drug gangs in port cities and announced a new intelligence gathering network involving police, civilian security services and neighborhood crime watch groups.
Under the new equirements for carrying and using firearms, the applicant must be over 25 years of age, show certificates of psychological and toxicological competence and have completed training in the handling of firearms. The armed forces will be responsible for issuing permits and maintaining a registry of legal gun owners.