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Company Ownership a Loophole for Having a Gun

by Garland M Baker on November 12, 2007

In Costa Rica, the law is explicit: tourists should not carry guns or other weapons even though many would like to do so.

According to Costa Rica’s Article 63 of the Ley de Armas y Explosivos, the controlling weapons law, the only exception is made for foreigners who are temporarily entering the country with their weapon(s) for the specific purpose of competition or hunting. Article 50 states a tourist can buy a gun here, but only for use outside of Costa Rica, and the tourist must declare the weapon at customs upon departure. These facts may be particularly disconcerting to those foreigners accustomed to the right to bear arms, or to anyone who has experienced a theft or robbery in Costa Rica.

Many non-resident tourists own or are part owners of companies in Costa Rica, and these companies have corporate identification cards, called cédulas. The Ley de Armas says that corporations, called personas juridicas, can use the company cédula to register a gun. Is this a loophole?

The question is whether a gun registered to a corporation can legally be wielded by a tourist who is an officer or employee of that corporation. There is not an unequivocal declaration in the arms law regarding such a scenario, however, a female employee at the arms and explosives control department said that foreigners cannot own or carry a gun legally in their personal name without a residency card. She cited article 41 of the law. The department is within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The woman said that even when a gun is registered to a company, a non-resident tourist in that company is not permitted to carry the weapon on the street. According to the arms law, the department has final say on who can carry a weapon, and the carrier of the weapon, in addition to the weapon itself, must be registered with the department.

On the security ministry Web site there are separate forms for requesting permission to carry a weapon and for the actual registration of a specific weapon. Article 82 of the law says that the department also has jurisdiction over who has the right to store the weapon and where it can be stored. Under the law, the owner of a weapon can store it in recintos privados, meaning houses, cars and workplaces.

A person legally able to purchase a gun does not need a permit to do so. The attorney responsible for the legal review of this article walked into a gun shop, paid for a gun, and was told to come back in two days. He did and picked up his gun. The gun store workers used the two days to make sure he did not have a criminal record.

The law makes a difference between simply having a weapon in a private place and having the right to carry it on the street.

When the arms department employee was asked what would happen if a tourist carried an unregistered gun in Costa Rica, she said that would obviously depend on whether anyone knew about it – but it would most definitely be in violation of the law. Finally, when asked what would happen if a non-resident tourist was carrying a gun and shot someone with it, she seemed a bit flabbergasted and said that she is no court, but that person would most likely be in a lot of trouble.

In the case of a tourist shooting someone, judges would likely look at two issues: If the situation were one of legitimate defense and if the weapon used was legally purchased. If the weapon was legally purchased under the name of a corporation but not subsequently registered, the consequences of the shooting probably would be one to three months of community service — if judges found the shooting to be justified.

So basically expats need to be residents, including pensionado or rentista, in order to carry a weapon on the street. If this sounds outrageous or offensive, U.S. federal law says the same thing about non-residents there.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Nevertheless, there are many state and federal laws regarding firearms in the United States.

Even so, the strict regulations on tourists bearing arms in Costa Rica may come as a surprise in a country where security guards everywhere, even in malls, wield massive rifles that look like they have the potential for large scale destruction. Well these security guards all have to undergo examinations of mental health and competence with the weapon, as do citizens and residents applying for the right to carry a weapon on their person in public areas. Article 41 states that all individual applicants (not corporate bodies) are required to supply the results of a mental health examination conducted by a competent professional.

Corporations are only required to present the corporate cédula and the corporate summary (personería) upon application. But again — individual members of the company are not automatically transferred the right to bear the arm registered under the corporate cédula.

There is an exception for some shotguns and rifles. They may be carried and used for hunting without a carry permit, according to the law.

Here is a summary of the facts: a non-resident, a tourist, can buy a gun through a registered company and store the gun in a private place, such as a home, an office or a car. If the gun is legal and that person shoots someone to protect one’s private place, the penalty can be one to three months community service. If the gun is illegal, the penalty is one to three years in prison.

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