(Q24N) Between 2010 and 2015, Salvadorans were registering firearms at a rate of 11,000 per year. This suggests 30 new firearms were registered every day in a country where the vast majority of crimes are committed with guns. In a market that had sales of almost $2 million in 2014, four firms dominated gun imports.
The inhabitants of the world’s most violent country have been spending more than $1.5 million on guns annually. Although the market’s total size and the number of guns in civilian hands is not entirely certain, even just taking the quantity of guns imported legally in the last 10 years indicate there would be enough for one in every fifty residents to have one.
In reality, the total supply of guns is much greater when taking into account the hundreds of thousands that were already flooding the country at the beginning of this century. In 2003, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated there were 450,000 firearms distributed among the civilian population, about half of which were illegal.
A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published in 2013, titled “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean,” cited an estimate that some 360,000 military firearms were not turned in after El Salvador’s civil war. The same report noted that, in 2011, El Salvador had 600,000 firearms, only 100,000 of which were the property of the government. The remaining 500,000 were unregistered.
The figures the government collects on firearms are fragmented across a series of institutions, such as the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of Defense, the National Civil Police (Policia Nacional Civil – PNC), and the Attorney General’s office. None of these provide a comprehensive document containing statistics about the market for, and the use of, firearms.
Despite this, looking at tax data generated by the sale of firearms in local stores one can start to get a sense of the numbers. For example, between 2009 and 2014, Salvadorans spent $9.18 million on guns. In 2014, 76.8 percent of homicides were committed with a firearm.
In 2015 El Salvador won the title of being the most violent country in the world, with one homicide for every 1000 inhabitants. However, its population is not the most armed in Central America. The UNODC report showed that, in 2011, Guatemala led the region with 1.6 million firearms in the hands of civilians. With these figures, El Salvador has one gun for every 13 inhabitants, while Guatemala has one for every nine.
In the last six years, with the leftist governments of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) party in control of the presidency, the country has seen both steep drops and sharp upticks in the total number of homicides. These rises and falls date back to 2012, the year the gang truce was mediated by the government of former president Maurico Funes. 2012 was also the year with the fewest homicides committed with a firearm. The number of crimes conducted with a gun that police reported to the attorney general’s office also fell precipitously, from 4,032 in 2009 to 2,536 in 2010, and from 1,145 in 2011 to 557 in 2012. In 2014, the numbers rose again, this time to their highest level in six years.
Other figures, like the drop in the number of guns registered by civilians during 2012, also appear to indicate that during the year of the truce the general population enjoyed at least a few months of relative reprieve. When the truce broke down, the numbers rose again.