January 21, 2010
Panama City, Panama
Nazi leadership realized long ago that one of the chief ways you instill fear and obedience in the people is to take away their ability to fight back. This is a time-tested method of making the people afraid of the government, and thus preventing the converse.
As such, I am frequently asked about gun control laws in many parts of the world… and while I am far from a self-professed ‘gun nut,’ I have a healthy enough respect and experience with firearms that it is an issue to which I pay close attention.
Here in Panama, ownership of firearms is perfectly legal, and there is an established process for their acquisition. Like anything in Panama, you may want to hire a lawyer to work through the process for you. I hate paperwork and usually find it easier to hire someone else to worry about the details.
Panama has a regulated process; to be legal, the weapon itself needs to be registered, and there are restrictions on the type of firearms… you will not, for example, see fully-automatic weapons, silencers, or armor-piercing rounds in Panama. This is not the wild west.
In order to be eligible to buy a firearm, an individual must first obtain some sort of residency– there are a myriad of ways to obtain Panamanian residency (such as the little-known “Italian reciprocity policy” that I will discuss in the future), but the bottom line is that tourists cannot be licensed.
This is an important distinction to make since many bona-fide residents in Panama never actually register for residency; they simply extend their tourist visas and exit/re-enter the country every few months.
With residency in hand, an individual can complete the process at the gun store– this involves a urine/blood sample and a police background check that can honestly take up to a few months to clear. This step is by far the most bureaucratic part of the process.
Once your background check is complete, you can buy a weapon that is already registered with the Panamanian authorities. If the weapon is not registered (for example, if you import a firearm), the police are required to take ballistic samples, effectively registering the weapon’s ‘fingerprint’.
As long as a weapon is registered with the local authorities, it can change hands among individuals who have permission to own firearms. In other words, if you have a permit and want to buy a rifle that is already registered, it would be a relatively hassle-free process.
If your registered firearm is lost or stolen, you would definitely want to report this to the local authorities immediately, otherwise you may be initially implicated as a suspect should the weapon be used in a crime by someone else.
As you could imagine, though, there are a lot of weapons available for purchase in Panama that are not registered with the local authorities… these can be purchased in black market venues, which are generally in the shadier areas like Chorillo and Colon.
If you get caught with one of these weapons, it will at a minimum be confiscated, and you’ll be looking at a pretty stiff payment to the policeman who catches you. Otherwise, the offense carries serious jail time.
One last point to mention– Panamanians make no distinction between concealed carry and open carry. If properly licensed, you can stash a pistol in your boot or carry it around on a pistol belt in public.
Most public buildings, though, have policies against firearms, and many even have metal detectors and security to ensure no concealed carries into the building.
Drop me a note if you’re looking for a gun shop in Panama, or feel free to list some that you are familiar with by leaving a comment.