Last Updated 22May2003



Population: 2,882,329 (July 2002 est.)


- GDP: purchasing power parity - $16.9 billion (2001 est.)

- GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $5,900 (2001 est.)

Governance: Constitutional Democracy


Percentage of Households with Firearms: n/a

Estimated Number of Firearms:

Types of Legal Firearms:
Weapons of war and automatic weapons, according to Executive Order No. 168 of 1992, are exclusively for use by the State. They can only be used for "the defence of territory, the conservation or reestablishment of public order within national territory, or other areas of public service deemed necessary by the Executive." Civilian possession is permitted of:

·      Pistols: caliber .22, .25, .762, .765, .38, .40, .45, 9 and 10 mm

·      Revolvers: caliber .22, .32, .38, .45 magnum, .357, .41 and .44

·      Hunting rifles

·      Single-barreled, double-barreled and pump-action shotguns

·      .22 caliber extended-length carbines (2)

In 1994 the Technical and Judicial Police (TJP), which is responsible for issuing permits to legally possess and carry firearms (see below), registered a total of 26,773 weapons, of which 13% were registered for the first time, and 87% were renewed registrations. In 1993, 704 firearms were decommissioned, of which 183 were AK-47s, 146 were 9mm pistols, 294 were revolvers, and 74 were shotguns. In 1995, 734 were decommissioned, and in 1997, 869, of which 31 were AK-47s, 89 were 9mm pistols, 43 were .22 caliber revolvers, 344 were .38 caliber revolvers, 77 were shotguns and 38 were rifles. In 1999, 533 weapons were decommissioned; however, a statistical breakdown of these is not yet available.

In addition, ammunition, non-lethal defensive equipment and accessories are permitted for import or sale in the national market by individuals, as described in Decree No. 2 of 1991, as long as they cannot be converted to military-spec or military use, such as armour piercing, metal piercing, explosives, or tracers which serve to track the trajectory of fire or which serve as incendiaries. (2)

Purposes of Lawful Firearms Ownership:


In Panama, 1,021 violent crimes were reported in 1999 and 1,073 in 2000. During 1995-2000, 101,041 crimes were reported in total to the TJP: (3)

·      against property -- 82,163;

·      against persons -- 4,958;

·      murder -- no data;

·      drugs -- 7,529;

·      sexual -- 2,334; and

·      others -- 4,057.

 Incidents Registered by the Police: 1994-1998 (2)

Type of Incident




Number %


Number %


Number %

Against Persons


12130 21.8

12620 23.9

12732 26.0

Personal Injury


2233 4.0

2839 5.4

3284 6.7



405 0.7

256 0.5

315 0.6

Attempted Homicide


13 0.0

14 0.0

23 0.0



79 0.1

114 0.2

139 0.3



3323 6.0

3630 6.9

3193 6.5

Fighting and Disorderly Conduct


5175 9.3

4336 8.2

3984 8.1



869 1.6

1287 2.4

1514 3.1



33 0.1

144 0.3

280 0.6

Against Property


20402 36.7

17593 33.3

16482 33.6



2376 4.3

1856 3.5

1340 2.7

Armed Robbery


2914 5.2

2646 5.0

2490 5.1



11114 20.0

9227 17.5

9001 18.3

Auto Theft


1792 3.2

1651 3.1

1438 2.9



1042 1.9

1029 1.9

1123 2.3

Damage to Property


943 1.7

1048 2.0

941 1.9

Auto Robbery


221 0.4

136 0,3

149 0.3



1232 2.2

1413 2.7

1376 2.8

Sexual Assault


869 1.6

1041 2.0

1181 2.4

Firearms Possession


1041 1.9

862 1.6

714 1.5

Possession of Other Weapons


390 0.7

247 0.5

304 0.6



19564 35.2

19034 36.0

16271 33.2



55628 100.0

52810 100.0

49060 100.0



Firearm Theft: n/a

Illegal Trade: n/a


Licensing Requirements: The TJP are responsible for issuing permits to possess firearms, subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Government and Justice. The following are the requirements listed for the granting of these permits, as described in Executive Decree No. 409 of 1994. Applicants must present:

·      An application form identifying the reasons for acquiring the weapon. This is not necessary to renew an existing license. Photocopy of the ID Card of the applicant in the case of a full citizen, or national residency papers in the case of a foreigner.

·      3 passport photos.

·      Receipt for the purchase of the weapons or note indicating change of ownership or gift.

·      $11 USD, as an annual fee for the license.

·      The weapon in question, along with 3 projectiles for ballistics testing, if the weapon is being registered for the first time.

The TJP then conducts a background check on the criminal record of the applicant.

In addition, foreigners resident in Panama must submit a work permit or commercial permit as proof of legitimate employment. Companies applying for permits must further include public registration information, as well as information on legal representation and a detailed list of those authorized to use the weapon and who will be responsible for it. Individuals working in agriculture in isolated areas who possess weapons for hunting and for sustaining a family are only required to present certification from local authorities on the nature of their work, as well as a certificate from the National Environmental Authority confirming that the weapon in question will not alter the ecological balance of the area. They are also exempt from paying the fee.

·      Licenses are denied to minors, "habitual drinkers of alcohol," the mentally ill and those with criminal and penal records which, in the judgement of the authorities, indicate that they are dangerous. It should be noted that Decree No. 409 of 1994 actually increased the flexibility of the previous law (No. 73 of 1993), which required that the applicant complete a psychological test and a shooting test in addition to the requirements listed above. The new law also makes it easier for the firm selling the weapon to complete the administrative tasks, rather than the applicant him or herself. Licenses can be cancelled for the following reasons:

If the licensee has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment;

·      If the person has been apprehended in the commission of a crime but not yet convicted;

·      If the license has been misused;

·      If the weapon puts the owner's life or the lives of others in danger;

·      If the owner fails to comply with the guidelines related to the management of the weapons.

Once a license has been cancelled, the TJP orders that the weapon be decommissioned.

Registration Requirements: 96,614 arms were registered in Panama through the year 2000.

Training Requirements: n/a

Storage Requirements: n/a

Prohibited: n/a

Penalties: Possession of a firearm whose registration number has been altered or removed: 2 to 3 years in prison.

·      Possession of weapons prohibited by law: 3 to 5 years in prison.

·      Importing or exporting prohibited weapons: 4 to 7 years.

·      Selling or transferring prohibited weapons: 5 to 10 years.

·      Buying, selling, possessing or transferring explosives or grenades without the proper authorization: 4 to 7 years. This sentence can be increased by 50% for the illegal purchase, sale, possession or transfer of explosives.

With regard to the possession of permitted firearms in breach of the licensing laws, this continues to be an "administrative crime" applied by the respective local government, with punishments ranging from US$200 to US$1000 or imprisonment of 3 to 6 months. In the case of firearms-related crimes committed by minors in the presence of adults, the adults can be considered to be the perpetrators of the crimes, and the provisions of the Family Code applied to the minors.


According to the figures presented by the Ministry of Government and Justice for the year 1993, there were in that year 59 companies authorized to import and sell weapons, ammunition, accessories and non-lethal defence equipment. Of these, 47 had a permit to import, 12 had a permit only to sell, and 5 had permits to sell to foreigners. "[O]nly 57 firearm's were registered as imported by individuals in 1993, with no records kept in the case of companies engaged in commercial importation."(3) In 1995, there were 42 companies, which imported a total of 198,951 weapons and 2,887,475 units of ammunition. However, for this same year, only 2000 imported weapons were registered (4). Decree No. 2 of 1991 authorizes and regulates the import and sale of the above-mentioned weapons for the purposes of hunting, sport and self-defence. Among other administrative requirements, in order to obtain such a permit the applicant must:

  • Submit a request, through a lawyer, describing the activities to be carried out by the company or individual. If the applicant is an individual, a justification must be offered for the need to import weapons;

·      Attach a copy of the business founding papers;

·      Attach an authenticated copy of the Provisional Permit authorized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to the person or firm;

·      In the case of a request for a permit to import weapons, a detailed description must be submitted in Spanish, detailing the make, caliber, model and type of the weapons (as well as other distinguishing features), the place from which they are being imported and the name and identification information of the exporter, as well as the use to which the weapons will eventually be put.

In addition, the above-mentioned decree states that those wishing to import and sell arms must be of "proven moral character and honour." Those convicted of having committed a violent crime as defined by the Criminal Code are excluded from participating in businesses dealing with the import or sale of weapons. Participation in such businesses is also prohibited to members of the Police Force, be this participation direct or through personal or legal representatives. Such businesses are also subject to inspection from the Ministry of Government and Justice (according to Decree No. 2 of 1991). They must submit, within the first 5 days of each month, a detailed report of existing inventories as well as the number and type of weapons sold during the previous month, identifying also the names, telephone numbers, identification numbers, addresses and weapons possession permit numbers of the purchasers. Individuals are only allowed to import up to three weapons every five years. Weapons, ammunition, accessories and other non-lethal defensive articles not permitted for individual use under the law are to be decommissioned and placed in the possession of the police. The ministry has the authority to cancel the import and sale permit and thereby dissolve the company for violations of these regulations.

"Panama and El Salvador are the only countries in the region that keep data on ammunition imports. In Panama, the amount of ammunition reported imported in 1993 was 2,887,475; in 1995 it was 4,000,000; and to September of 1997 it was 3,671,750." (3)


Thousands of combat arms and light arms were confiscated in the 1990s: 704 (1993); 734 (1995); 869 (1997); and 533 (1999). (3)

"In 1996, Mayor Omaira Correa and the mayor's office of greater Panama City organized the Exchange for Food Program. The goal was to collect firearms, no questions asked.

"Phase 1 of the program was carried out February 8 - 15 in El Chorillo neighborhood (most hard hit by the US armed forces in 1989 and with high crime rates), and in the Barraza sector. The following arms were collected: 700 pieces of ammunition, 30 grenades, 17 explosives, 286 firearms and 1 firework, in exchange for 60,000 balboas (same in dollars) in coupons good for purchases from local stores.

"Phase 2 of the collection took place May 16-21 in Curundu and recovered 30 fragmentation grenades and 223 arms of various types, exchanged for 27,000 balboas in coupons donated by businessmen, politicians and embassies.

Phase 3 occurred June 26 to July 15 of 1997 in the San Joaquin, Pedregal and Juan Diaz sectors, where many youth gangs existed. 244 firearms were exchanged for coupons worth 30,000 balboas" (5)


  1. CIA, The World Factbook,

  1. Vicente Archibold Blake, "Investigación Sobre Armas Livianas en Panama," the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, 2000, (English Translation by Greg Puley.)

  1. "Comparative Analysis: Arms and Violence in Central American Society," Dialogo Centroamericano, no. 44 (July 2001), pp. 6-7.

  1. Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia, Memoria 1997, p. 70.

  1. Tunan Cantillo, Rainer. “Guera contra las Armas: Si a la Paz”, Practicas Ejemplarizantes de Cultura de Paz de Panama, Ceasr Picon e Golcher Editores, Panama, 1998, p.164

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