Firearms are reportedly used in more than 80 percent of all homicides in Honduras, almost double the global average, an epidemic fueled in large part by the ease with which criminals can obtain weapons and ammunition.
Of the 48,094 murders registered in Honduras between 2008 and 2015, 39,111 were committed using a firearm, according to data from the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) accessed by La Tribuna. At 81.3 percent, the ratio of gun deaths to overall homicides in Honduras is almost twice the worldwide average of approximately 41 percent (pdf), according to the Igarapé Institute .
Honduras was at one time the most violent peacetime nation in the world and remains among the most homicidal. Murder rates peaked at over 90 per 100,000 residents in the early 2010s before falling to their current levels of around 57 per 100,000.
The northern department of Cortés — home to San Pedro Sula — saw the most violence during the recent eight-year stretch, according to the Observatory, registering 31 percent of the murders nationwide. Tegucigalpa’s Francisco Morazán and La Ceiba’s Atlántida were the second and third most violent departments, accounting for 17 and 8 percent of the total homicides, respectively.
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The high rate of gun deaths is closely linked to the large black market for weapons that is supplying Honduras’ powerful criminal groups. In 2014, a Honduran congressional commission estimated that over 1 million weapons were in circulation, and that more than 700,000 of those were unlicensed.
Many of the illegal firearms are trafficked from the United States and from neighboring countries such as El Salvador or Guatemala. Still more are sourced from Honduras’ own security forces, which do not register their weapons with the state, according to an anonymous source consulted by La Tribuna. This lack of regulation facilitates the movement of weapons from police and military stockpiles into the hands of criminal groups.
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Ammunition also appears to be inexpensive and in abundant supply. The head of the Violence Observatory, Migdonia Ayestas, noted with alarm that up to 400 bullet casings have been found at some crime scenes, and that bodies are found riddled with as many as 10 bullet wounds. This shows “that the bullets or projectiles would appear to be so cheap that they don’t care about using as many as it takes to demonstrate their lethal power,” Ayestas told La Tribuna.
To be sure, gun violence is a serious problem across the region. In Central America, firearms are used in 73 percent of all homicides, according to Igarapé, while in South America that number is 53 percent.