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Gun Ownership, Safety, and Crime In Belize

17 Dec
.38 mm handgun and bullets.

Gun Ownership, Safety, and Crime In Belize

Guns In Belize

One of the questions I am most frequently asked about Belize is:

Is it really safe?

Unlike Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries in the region, Belize has no organized crime. In Belize, no drug cartels are fighting for dominance or control. Luckily, this sleepy little country seems too small to interest those types.

That said, some Belize City neighborhoods struggle with gang-related crime, but this doesn’t spill over into the general population. And you probably aren’t going to want to move to Belize City anyway, unless you’re looking for a job. The Cayes, Cayo, Northern Belize, and the Deep South are all better locations for expats.

Serious crime statistics can seem high for Belize, until you realize that they really all take place in very localized areas of Belize City. The statistics are still high, but the crimes aren’t something you have to worry about unless you plan to move into a gang-ruled neighborhood in the city’s capital (and, again, I don’t imagine that’s something you’re going to do).

Interestingly, even among the worst gangs in Belize City, harming a police officer is forbidden. The population of Belize is small. Most everyone is related to each other in some way, including police and gang members. This helps to keep things under some level of control.

In fact, in all my experience spending time in this country, I’ve never experienced or witnessed a single incidence of crime.

Steps To Remain Safe

That said, I always tell people that the best way to remain safe in Belize (in fact, these things would hold true anywhere in Central or South America) is to:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially in areas you don’t know well…
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry or otherwise display conspicuous wealth…
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash…
  • If you move to Belize and keep a safe in your house, don’t mention it. Belizeans assume that, if someone has a safe, it must be full of treasure. Maybe it’s a throwback to the country’s pirate days…
  • Treat locals with courtesy and respect unless given specific reason to do otherwise…

And, Most Important:

Don’t interfere in other people’s personal relationships, neither romantic nor familial. Crimes of passion are common here, as they are in Central America in general.

A friend from Ireland, Con Murphy, lived in Belize for about 12 years—in rural Cayo (alone and away from neighbors), in San Ignacio town, and for 4 years in the much-maligned Belize City, where, as he puts it, he found himself on the wrong side of the tracks assessing late-night street food options regularly.

And he enjoyed it all without incident.

“I have never felt threatened by anything,” he told me once, “other than a couple of spider sightings, my neighbor’s terrifying 180-pound dog (who took an intense dislike to me after I wouldn’t share my tacos with him), and one unhappy ex-girlfriend (I admit she probably had good reason for the position she adopted toward me… Belizeans are passionate people).”

My friend, though, did experience theft. A weed whacker disappeared when he left it outside for two weeks while he was visiting family back in Ireland. He recognized that it was his own fault. You can’t leave things lying around where someone can pick them up. It’s too much of a temptation anywhere in the world.

On another occasion, Con left his house unlocked and was relieved of the contents of his fridge and alcohol cabinet but nothing else.

Car theft is almost non-existent in this country. There are only four highways, and the police maintain checkpoints at the start and end of each of them. There is just no way to easily move a stolen vehicle. On the off chance that your car did go missing, the likeliest explanation would be that someone (maybe after a few beers too many) borrowed it to get home. You could expect it to turn up the next day.

Gun Ownership In Belize

On the subject of safety in Belize, one specific question I get often is to do with gun ownership in this country.

It’s legal for residents.

That said, gun ownership in Belize is considered a privilege, not a right. Strict gun laws mean draconian measures on the books for anyone found with an unlicensed gun or ammunition.

Belize Offers Three Classes Of Legal Gun Ownership

Farm Shotgun: Licensed for the protection of livestock from predators and vermin on your farm (regardless the size of your “farm”). If you hold a farm license, your gun should be taken off your farm only once a year for relicensing at the district police station.

Hunting Rifle or Shotgun: These can be carried openly but must be unloaded and in a case or wrapped in cloth when in towns or villages. Non-Belizeans are also required to obtain tags for specific game animals. Hunting is a popular pastime in Belize. Many animals are protected, but specific hunting seasons are in place for non-endangered game animals.

Special Protection: The right to carry a concealed sidearm or (much less common) a pump-action shotgun for security or self-defense. These licenses are vetted by the police before being issued. The latter option would be allowed only in special circumstances.

People in this country take guns seriously, of course, but there is a local joke about the two things that really scare Belizeans:

Getting rained on. Even the most laid-back locals show impressive speed when a drop of rain falls. They can’t get under cover quick enough.

And dogs.

In Belize, you have no stronger weapon for keeping people from entering your yard or home than a dog.

I have seen fully armed and armored soldiers bunched at the gateway to a house in the city (because they were assisting police with an arrest) being held at bay by the yapping of a little terrier. All their guns were trained directly on the little guy, but the five soldiers refused to open the gate to enter the yard until the dog was tied up.

So move to Belize, buy a dog, be safe, have fun, and enjoy life.

Lief Simon