HAVANA – Cuba has declared a two-month amnesty for citizens to register unlicensed guns, and says those passing aptitude and psychological tests will be allowed to keep their weapons.
The move is unusual in a state where almost no one except some active military personnel and plain-clothed state security agents are allowed to possess weapons.
Even most police officers are required to leave their pistols at the station or in a regional barracks when on vacation or leave, and young men participating in mandatory military service are given unloaded firearms for most exercises.
Starting Feb. 12, Cubans will have the "exceptional and one-time only" chance to register their guns with police, and will be allowed to keep them provided they are over 18 and have passed the proper tests administered at police stations.
There was no explanation for why the drive to legalize unlicensed weapons is coming now, though the state-run news agency Prensa Latina said the move grew out of a November 2008 law regulating possession of guns and ammunition.
According to a weekend bulletin carried by state news media, gun owners must "maintain conduct consistent with the appropriate norms of social behavior, meet security and protection conditions for the firearms and pay established taxes."
Cubans were encouraged to register any weapons they owned in the years after Fidel Castro and his band of rebels toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959. But later authorities used a list of those who had sought licenses to go door-to-door and encourage them to turn over their firearms — even antiques considered family heirlooms.
While Cuba is among the safest countries in the hemisphere, it is not unusual to find firearms in Cuban homes, though most are weapons improvised from household materials or guns that were smuggled into the country and bought on the black market.
The call to register arms is for Cubans civilians, and the bulletin stated that "security and protection agents, detectives and bodyguards will be summoned by the Ministry of the Interior" for an independent licensing process.