SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – In one of the world's most deadly countries, a Swedish development organization is trying to turn a source of death into a resource that combats gun violence.
The Humanium Metal Initiative was launched in El Salvador in November. It aims to take guns off the streets and have the metal recycled and sold, with the revenue being funneled back into anti-violence programs, according to IM Swedish Development Partner, the group behind the initiative. "Humanium" is the name it gives to the metal produced from recycled guns.
Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a supporter of the gun initiative, said that when you see an ingot of the recycled gun metal you understand how it can be used for different purposes.
"You can make a pistol or a revolver of it and it's lethal," Blix said. But the same metal also "can be used for very good purposes."
In 2015, gang violence pushed El Salvador's homicide rate to 103 killings for every 100,000 residents. In neighboring Honduras, it was 64 per 100,000 in 2015. A 2012 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that 77 percent of the murders in Central America were committed with a firearm. Last year in El Salvador, 83 percent of the 6,071 murders were committed with a firearm, according to the government.
The weapons come from various sources. Some are legally registered then filter into the underworld. Others are leftover from the region's civil wars. And still others are smuggled from the United States.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2015, 48 percent of the 4,068 seized weapons Salvadoran authorities sent it for traces were found to have originated in the U.S.
IM Swedish Development Partner so far has several tons of the metal between existing stockpiles in El Salvador and Guatemala. The last weapon destruction in El Salvador destroyed 1,825 guns. The organization plans to scale up its work as demand grows for the metal.
The Swedish group doesn't collect the guns itself or melt them down. The guns are either seized or collected from gun holders by local authorities, who then melt them down into ingots, wire or pellets, depending on what the buyer needs, according to the organization.
What it does do is certify that the metal comes from recycled guns, sells the ingots to socially conscious companies then uses the revenue to fund violence prevention programs and help victims of gun violence in the country where the metal originated. It is basically trying to create a market for the gun metal.
"We hope that the Humanium Metal Initiative will also be an incentive for world leaders to promote weapons destructions program, as part of the commitments made under the Sustainable Development Goals/agenda 2030," IM senior adviser Peter Brune said in an email.
The organization says it is currently negotiating with several global brands. The metal could be used for items ranging from jewelry to smartphone cases. The metal will not initially be available on the open market, but rather to specific commercial partners.
"These are the weapons from which people get killed every day," Blix said. ""In the Bible, they say you can make swords into ploughshares. So it's a famous, old, thousands-of-years wisdom, and that is what we should do."
Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico and David Keyton in Stockholm contributed to this report.