Venezuelans Regret Gun Ban

“Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight.”

Hugo Chavez
In this April 13, 2010 photo, members of the National Revolutionary Militia hold up their weapons and a painting of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at an event marking the 9th anniversary of Chavez's return to power after a failed 2002 coup, in Caracas, Venezuela.foxnews.com

In 2012, then-President Hugo Chavez banned firearm ownership by private citizens in Venezuela, leaving the unarmed populace unable to defend themselves from criminals and corrupt government officials alike. In the years following, the crime rate and government abuses increased at an unprecedented rate.

Fox News recently ran a report detailing the fallout that resulted, in part, from stripping the people of Venezuela of the right to bear arms. In the years following the firearms ban, the violent crime rate went through the roof.

In 2015, Venezuela had the highest rate of homicides anywhere in the world, with almost 28,000 people murdered. In 2001, the year before Chavez came to power, only 6,500 were killed, according to GunPolicy.org, an international firearms prevention and policy research initiative. In 2012, that number jumped to just under 10,000, which still only about a third of the 2015 totals. The government no longer keeps comprehensive records, but Amnesty International this past September stated that Venezuela had a murder rate "worse than some war zones," with 89 people per 100,000 people killed—three times that of its volatile neighbor Brazil.

“The government security forces, at the beginning of this debacle, knew they had no real opposition to their force. Once things were this bad, it was a clear declaration of war against an unarmed population.”

- —Maribel Arias

"The people of Venezuela should have rights for gun carrying because there is just too much crime and people should have the right to defend themselves because the justice system is not working," Maribel Arias, 35, who was once a law and political science student at the University of Los Andes in her home state of Mérida but fled to the Colombian border with her family two years ago, told Fox News. "If you call the police, the police come only if they want. If they capture the criminal maybe they will take away whatever they stole, but they normally go free again. It's a vicious cycle."

It’s not just criminals that the people of Venezuela need to defend themselves against; it’s also the government.

"Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight," Javier Vanegas, 28, a Venezuelan teacher of English now exiled in Ecuador, told Fox News. "The government security forces, at the beginning of this debacle, knew they had no real opposition to their force. Once things were this bad, it was a clear declaration of war against an unarmed population."

The "Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law," with the explicit aim to "disarm all citizens" was enacted by the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2012, under the direction of then-President Hugo Chavez. The law ended legal sale of firearms to all but government entities.

Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s successor after his death, continued the push, spending more than $47 million enforcing the ban, which sometimes includes grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town square despite a starving population and crumbling infrastructure. Most citizen-owned firearms were confiscated, not surrendered.

“The gun reform policy of the government was about social control. As the citizenry got more desperate and hungry and angry with the political situation, they did not want them to be able to defend themselves. It was not about security; it was about a monopoly on violence and social control.”

- —Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan-American president and founder of Asymmetrica

To keep the citizens in line, government-backed motorcycle gangs, known as s "collectivos," were created. So while the citizens were unarmed, the Chavez-created "collectivos" were legally armed by the powers that be, sowing violence wherever a protest might break out. The gangs were able to "brutally subjugate opposition groups" according to the Fox News report, but they also allowed fro some plausible deniability, as they weren't officially government forces.

"They were set up by the government to act as proxies and exert community control. They're the guys on the motorcycles in the poor neighborhoods, who killed any protesters," said Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan-American president and founder of Asymmetrica, a Washington, D.C.-based political risk research and consulting firm told Fox News.

“The gun reform policy of the government was about social control. As the citizenry got more desperate and hungry and angry with the political situation, they did not want them to be able to defend themselves. It was not about security; it was about a monopoly on violence and social control.”

The unrest in Venezuela shows the importance of bearing arms, and the ability to defend oneself against bad actors—be they government or civilian.

"Venezuela shows the deadly peril when citizens are deprived of the means of resisting the depredations of a criminal government," said David Kopel, a policy analyst, and research director at the Independence Institute and adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University said to Fox News.