“One goes out to protest and they shoot us,” says a protester amid a political and economic crisis that transverses Venezuela.
In 2012, under the promise of reducing the homicide rate in Venezuela, which was one of the highest in the region at that time, President Hugo Chávez banned the sales of arms to civil society under the law, “Ley para el Desarme y Control de Armas y Municiones.”
Weapons would now only be possessed by the Venezuelan armed forces, colectivos, and high-ranking government officials. Colectivos are leftist urban rebel groups inspired by the Cuban Revolution formed in Venezuela’s working-class neighborhoods to fight for social justice.
Amid tear gas and screams of ‘freedom’ in the 2014 protests, a year after the death of Hugo Chávez, gunshots were fired against civilians leaving 800 injured and 43 dead. Civil society could not stand a chance against the guns and rifles of the Venezuelan armed forces. Protests are continued to be seen in Venezuela, most notoriously in 2019.
After the law on gun prohibition went into effect, fifteen people are killed daily by Venezuelan police forces, reports La Gaceta.
The government that once triumphed under the promise of protecting those most vulnerable was now responsible for the deaths of defenseless and armless civilians.
“The right to bear arms shall not be infringed”
The same year that weapons were prohibited in Venezuela, the United States witnessed one of the deadliest school shootings that struck the nation—the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Vox News reported that there has been a total of 2,654 mass shootings after Sandy Hook in 2012.
After Sandy Hook, a debate sparked across the nation whether guns should be regulated or even prohibited gathered national attention.
What can Venezuela teach the United States about taking away arms?
Dan Fisk, a former advisor to George W. Bush on Latin America, says “I think there are things that can be learned from the Venezuelan experience, in 2012, at least, as a legal framework, it didn’t end people having guns. There are many historical examples where a citizenry has been disarmed. They suffer the consequences of repression. And so that is something that, you know, is I think, for a lot of American citizens is something that is in the back of their mind.”
“Institutions are the bedrock or the backbone of a functioning democracy,” says Rafael Struve, founder of the podcast State of Venezuela.
Venezuela has weak institutions according to Transparency International, in comparison to those of the United States. Colonial history plays an important part, institutions in Venezuela and across Latin America are extractive institutions.
Extractive political and economic institutions are designed to benefit the elite class that holds power in society, according to the book Why Nations Fail.
Thus, making it easier for tyrannical governments to form.
The United States because of its colonial history, has inclusive institutions where equal rights and entitlements, and enable equal opportunities, voice, and access to resources and services are bestowed. The Second Amendment is part of that history.
“But no country is immune to tyranny’ says Rafael Struve.
In 1939, the Law of Arms and Explosives was established, and according to Rafael Struve, this was where the monopolization of weapons and state control began but, gun control took a turn for the dark after Chávez.
“In 2002, the Venezuelan government ended up passing what’s called the Control of Arms Munitions and Disarmament Law, and a decade after that, (2012), that law was modified to enhance the extent to which Venezuela was exerting gun control,” says Struve.
The homicide rate did not decrease in Venezuela after 2012.
“If you look at statistics from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, and as well as murder rate, it increased from 73 murders per 100,000 people in 2012, to 98 murders per 100,000 in 2016 when you go to the extent where you are banning firearms, you’re confiscating weapons you are giving the state a monopoly on violence,” says Struve.
Sebastian Aranguibel works closely with Venezuela in a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. He and his family left Venezuela because of the political and economic situation. He identifies himself as progressive in the political-ideological spectrum.
He believes “tyranny enters through other channels.”
“In terms of, you know, banning gun sales, I don’t even think that they made much headway in terms of disarmament. This came in 2012. By that point in time, you know, Chavez has already changed the Constitution,” says Sebastian.
Fisk, Aranguibel, and Struve believe if civil society in Venezuela would have had the right to bear arms it would’ve been much more difficult for the Venezuelan armed forces to exert that amount of repression.
But because of the institutional, historical, and nature of the political and societal aspects in Venezuela and the military intelligence the Chavista government has, there is no telling what the outcome would have been after the manifestations if Venezuelans had a right to bear arms.