Judge's ruling threatens upheaval of Puerto Rico gun laws

A local court in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico this month issued a stern ruling that could end some of the strongest gun laws in the country.

Taking control of Puerto Rico’s strict firearms statutes is Judge Lugo Anibal Irizarry, sitting in the Court of Salinas, who found the U.S. territory’s Ley de Armas unconstitutionally prohibitive and in violation of the Second Amendment as part of a class action lawsuit brought by 850 plaintiffs.

As Irizarry’s 42-page (Spanish) ruling reads, explained by the Second Amendment Foundation, Puerto Ricans in the Commonwealth may now carry openly or concealed without a permit, and they do not need to obtain a permit before purchasing a firearm.

“Cumbersome firearms regulations have never prevented criminals from getting their hands on guns,” said Alan M. Gottlieb, SAF executive vice president, in a statement emailed to Guns.com. “They have only inconvenienced law-abiding citizens, or deprived them outright from exercising their rights under the Second Amendment.”

The ruling extensively refers to the precedents set in the stateside Heller and McDonald cases, which have framed legal gun ownership and use in the past decade.

Puerto Rico has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. and impact over three million residents, who in the end are U.S. citizens.

The territory requires those who want to legally own a firearm first obtain a weapons license or licencias de armas, which costs $125 and has to be renewed every five years. This permit allows the holder to possess a maximum of two firearms, which have to be registered with the police, for which they can only purchase ammo in the same calibers as their declared firearms.

Ammunition purchases are limited to 50 rounds per calendar year per firearm.

Those who want a concealed carry permit must already have a weapons license, become a member of a gun club recognized by the police, obtain an additional $25 Target-shooting permit (Permisos de tiro al blanco), which allows the possessor to purchase larger amounts of ammunition and file an application to appear before a judge to argue their case for a CCW. This typically requires using a lawyer to expedite the process and obtain additional training.

The process costs upwards of $1,000 and the number of permits issued are so low as to classify Puerto Rico as a “No Issue” jurisdiction when compared to such notoriously strict “May Issue” handgun permit states as New Jersey and Hawaii.

However, the Commonwealth also suffers from a crime rate that is seven times higher than that found in the rest of the U.S. despite strict control over legal firearms.

The elusiveness of legal permits on the island has led to a burgeoning black market in illegally procured permits, which in turn has brought down the long arm of the federal government into prosecuting local officials over violations of the Ley de Armas.

Under the court’s guidelines handed down this month, all would-be gun owners in Puerto Rico would have to do moving forward to obtain a firearm is complete a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Form 4473 at purchase from a licensed dealer and pass a NCIS instant background check. Once obtained, it could be carried anywhere not already prohibited by law.

However, the Department of Justice for Puerto Rico, in a statement Friday, cautioned the ruling is suspended for 60 days pending filing of appeal, which could send the case eventually to the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court.

“Legal weapons should be in the hands of people who are qualified to own them,” said Secretary of the Department of Justice Cesar Miranda.

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