Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- On December 11, 2019, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced signed Act No. 168. into law. The new law totally re-writes Puerto Rico firearms law. It is the most sweeping change in firearms law in the history of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico came under the sovereignty of the United States in 1898, about the same time as Hawaii. Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States as the result of the Spanish-American war. In Puerto Rico, the possession of firearms has always been regarded as a privilege, not as a Constitutional Right.
Puerto Rico had one of the most restrictive firearms laws in the United States, arguably more restrictive than California, Hawaii, or New York. There were only about 225,000 legally owned firearms in Puerto Rico in 2016, giving it one of the lowest levels of legal firearm ownership in the United States, at about 6.6 legal firearms per 100 people.
Two things seem to have led to the massive reform of Puerto Rico firearms law.
- First, the actions of the United States Supreme Court in recognizing the Constitutional protections of the Second Amendment in the Heller and later, the McDonald, Supreme Court cases.
- Second, the utter failure of the extremely restrictive Puerto Rico gun control scheme.
While Puerto Rico has had extreme infringements on Second Amendment rights, it has had extreme crime and murder rates, far higher than any state in the United States. Puerto Rico's murder rate averages four times the murder rate of the United States as a whole.
In 2016, the FBI Uniform Crime Report shows Puerto Rico with 19.9 murders per 100,000 population. Louisiana is the closest state with 11.8 murders per 100,000 population. The District of Columbia, as a federal territory, edges out Puerto Rico with 20.4 murders per 100,000. The District of Columbia is one of the few places in the United States that could claim, in 2016, to have more infringements on Second Amendment rights than Puerto Rico.
Perhaps this is why, when those pushing for a disarmed society compare gun control regimes and crime rates, they conspicuously ignore Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. 2016 is not an outlier. It is representative of the last 20 years, at least.
The reason for the passage of Act. No. 168 is stated as the necessity of bringing Puerto Rico law within the protections of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Caveat: Act No. 168, and other Puerto Rico law is written in Spanish. What is quoted below are translations to English.
Given the decisions of the Supreme Federal Court, it is necessary to take action to safeguard and protect the rights of American citizens residing in Puerto Rico, through a new Weapons Law that is consistent with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, with decisions of the Supreme Court, and make it clear that, in Puerto Rico, carrying and possessing firearms is a fundamental and individual right, as in the rest of the Nation.
The most sweeping change in Act No. 168 is to eliminate the restrictive and burdensome requirements of the old law in obtaining a permit to purchase, own, or carry firearms. The new law enacts a shall-issue system that requires a permit to be issued if the applicant meets the legal requirements. The legal requirements are essentially the same as in the United States for firearms ownership; except for a uniform minimum age of 21. This was likely influenced by recent legislation in California, Washington, and Florida.
Costs under the old system were upwards from $1,500, with no guarantee of obtaining a permit to own a gun at the end of the long process. Under the new law, costs are about $200, with a guarantee of a permit, if the applicant does not fall into one of the prohibited categories. The permit is valid for five years. The renewal fee is $100.
Under the new law, a permit to own includes the right to carry a firearm for defense in public, if the firearm is concealed. Obtaining a permit to carry, under the old system, was even more difficult and costly than obtaining a permit to own a firearm. The government has a limit of 45 days in which to investigate and issue a permit. After a year, the limit is reduced to 30 days.
Puerto Rico will recognize all other firearm permits issued in the United States or territories of the United States. This warning, in Spanish and English, is to be posted at all ports and airports:
Every person, not authorized to have firearms under Puerto Rico laws, and who does not hold a valid weapons permit issued in any State, enclave, possession or territory of the United States of America, who brings a firearm with him/her or in his/her luggage, must give immediate notice to the Ports Authority Security Office and an officer of the Police Bureau of Puerto Rico upon arrival. Noncompliance with this notice may carry prison penalties. The Ports Authority Security Office and/or an Authorized Agent will inform you on how to proceed with your weapon.”
Under the new law, if a firearms owner purchases more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition in a year; or more than 10 firearms in a year; the police chief may investigate to ensure the ammunition and firearms were purchased for lawful reasons.
The collection of firearms is specifically protected under the new law. There are no limits to the number of firearms which may be collected.
Under the new law, “assault weapons” are banned, except for those people with a firearms permit.
Under the new law, target shooting is to be encouraged by the government of Puerto Rico. The establishment of clubs, shooting organizations, and competitions are to be promoted by the government.
People without firearms permits will be allowed to shoot at licensed ranges.
While the requirement to apply and pay for a firearms permit may seem burdensome to gun owners in many states, Act No. 168 is an enormous step toward respecting Second Amendment rights in Puerto Rico.
Consider: The permit must be issued. The permit includes the right to carry for self-defense. There is complete recognition of all permits issued in the United States. There are, effectively, no limits on the number of firearms or amount of ammunition which may be purchased and used.
Moreover, the law specifically states its purpose is to bring Puerto Rico under the protections of the Second Amendment of the United States.
If the Supreme Court further clarifies and restores those protections, as expected, the law will be subject to revision to bring the benefits of the Second Amendment to Puerto Rico.
The law goes into effect on 1 January 2020.
Regulations are being written to conform to the new law. If you are traveling to Puerto Rico, it is recommended you determine the details of the regulations before traveling.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30-year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.