Over 128,000 firearms without a government permit are currently circulating in El Salvador, according to the national police.
The police said that a total of 220,493 firearms have been officially registered in El Salvador since 1994. However, permits for more than half of these weapons have now expired. "This means that citizens have now lost the right to carry them legally," Augusto Cotto said.
Under the rules set by the Ministry of Defense, an authorization permit allowing possession of a firearm is valid for three years, after which time the owner is must apply to renew the license.
Gun crime is rampant in El Salvador and, according to national statistics, 70 percent of all murders are committed with a firearm. So far this year, over 2,000 firearms have been used in homicides in the country.
It is not known how many of the weapons with lapsed permits are being kept by the original owners, and how many have been stolen, lost or have ended up in the hands of criminals.
The total number of illegal weapons in circulation in El Salvador is likely to be much higher than 128,000, due to the large volume of weapons which enter the country illegally and have never been registered.
So far in 2011, police have seized a total of 3,915 firearms in El Salvador; an average of 12 per day.