The number of people with registered firearms in their homes for self-defense has risen sharply over the past five years, statistics show, but whether gun possession actually makes them safer is debatable.
In 2011, there were 145,939 homes with registered weapons but by 2016 that figured had spiked by 60% to 232,746, according to data from public policy think tank México Evalúa.
On average, 40 weapons were sold daily last year at the official Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) store in Mexico City, the only place in Mexico where guns can be bought legally. Over the course of the year, that rate added up to total sales of 14,400 new weapons.
In total, there are almost 2.8 million firearm possession permits currently held by private citizens, legal entities and security forces, according to Sedena statistics, but just 3,076 valid carry permits that allow possession in public.
One of the growing number of people who have decided to purchase a weapon for self-defense is María de la Luz Gallo, a middle-aged woman who lives in the eastern zone of México state, bordering Mexico City.
Interviewed by the broadcaster Televisa after purchasing a pistol at the Sedena store, Gallo explained her motivations.
“. . . The situation is so dangerous now, I think that having a weapon at home provides a little security, or a little more security,” she said.
“I really trusted the security of my neighborhood, the police, but now that we see what is happening, you can’t be too sure, so you have to protect yourself,” she explained.
Gallo admitted that she had never shot a gun before but will now learn how to use her new purchase at an authorized shooting range.
Another customer motivated by security concerns is Verónica Peña, who traveled from the western state of Jalisco to the Sedena store where she spent over 13,000 pesos (US $675) to buy a pistol and 200 cartridges.
Asked whether she thought the gun would help her, Peña responded “well, I’m going to feel calmer.”
“One prefers to be calmer [by having] weapons at home . . . [there are] robberies, kidnappings, everything,” she said.
Apart from selling weapons and registering their possession, the Defense Secretariat is also responsible for issuing licenses, a process that takes between 15 and 45 days after customers present the required documentation.
“They asked for my birth certificate, proof of address, identification and a document that shows I don’t have a criminal record,” Gallo said.
For a carry permit to be granted, psychological and toxicology tests are also required as well as a medical exam.
The director of weapons sales at Sedena explained that where customers live dictates what kind of weapon they are allowed to buy.
People living in urban areas are limited to handguns whereas those living in rural areas can purchase a rifle or shotgun, Colonel Eduardo Téllez Moreno said.
However, any assumption that gun ownership translates into a decreased vulnerability to violence is strongly challenged by statistics from Brazil, where according to Insight Crime, homicide rates were about 50% higher per capita last year than in Mexico.
A firearms expert from the Igarapé Institute said that studies in Brazil showed that weapon possession significantly increased the probability of death in violent encounters.
When a person responds to an act of aggression with a firearm, he or she is 180 times more likely to die, Ilona Szabó explained, while having a weapon at home increases the probability of being killed during a robbery by 57%. The presence of a weapon at home also increases the probability of a woman being killed in domestic violence by 272%.
Mexican statistics show that the use of guns in homicides is on the rise and experts have called for greater restrictions on firearm purchases.
Between 2009 and 2016, around half of all homicides were committed with a firearm but in 2017 that figure rose to 65%, according to México Evalúa.
This year looks certain to be the most violent since record-keeping began in 1997 but according to a declaration made by President Enrique Peña Nieto at a national security meeting earlier this year, organized crime is only responsible for half of all homicides.
The other half are the result of local crimes such as robberies, kidnappings and domestic violence, he said.