MONTEVIDEO, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Uruguay has the world's highest per capita rate of gun ownership, with one out of three Uruguayans owning a firearm, according to figures released Tuesday by the Institute of Legal and Social Studies (IELSUR), a non-governmental organization (NGO).
Up to December 2012, 584,112 guns were registered in Uruguay, and the number of unregistered firearms is expected to double, in a country of just 3.4 million people, the NGO's Luis Pedernera told a local radio station.
The rate is almost as much as in "countries such as Iraq, where there is a latent armed conflict," said Pedernera, adding the prevalence of guns puts Uruguay in the same position as "Colombia and Brazil, where firearms are highly used."
Funded by the European Union, the NGO unveiled a gun-control project this week, which is called "action for a democratic security policy; towards a national plan of civilian disarmament."
The released figures will help Uruguayans "discuss an issue of concern that is barely visible. This issue should really raise our concern," said Pedernera.
The NGO representative said Uruguay's gun-ownership laws "need to be aligned with international standards" to send the message that "firearms are not a right of the people, but a tool of the state for specific actions".
"We have to include the issue in the Uruguayan agenda, because this will have a positive effect on quality of life," he said.
Uruguay's Congress is currently debating a bill that would punish illegal possession of guns and trafficking in firearms.