By Hollie McKay Fox NewsPublished December 14, 2018 9:51am EST
In this April 13, 2010 file 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. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)
CUCUTA, Venezuela/Colombia border – As Venezuela continues to crumble under the socialist dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro, some are expressing words of warning – and resentment – against a six-year-old gun control bill that stripped citizens of their weapons.
“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.”
Under the direction of then-President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2012 enacted the “Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law,” with the explicit aim to “disarm all citizens.” The law took effect in 2013, with only minimal pushback from some pro-democracy opposition figures, banned the legal commercial sale of guns and munitions to all - except government entities.
Chavez initially ran a months-long amnesty program encouraging Venezuelans to trade their arms for electrical goods. That year, there were only 37 recorded voluntary gun surrenders, while the majority of seizures - more than 12,500 – were by force.
In 2014, with Nicolás Maduro at the helm following Chavez’s death but carrying through his socialist “Chavista” policies, the government invested more than $47 million enforcing the gun ban – which has since included grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town square.
A former gun store owner inside Venezuela – who told Fox News he has now been relegated to only selling fishing supplies since the ban – said he can’t sell any type of weaponry - even a slingshot - and underscored that even BB ammunition and airsoft guns are only issued to police and military officers.
The punishment for illicit carrying or selling a weapon now is 20 years behind bars.
Prior to the 2012 reform, there were only around eight gun stores in the entire country. And the process of obtaining a legal permit to own and carry was plagued by long wait lines, high costs and bribery “to make the process swifter” at the one department allowed to issue licenses, which operated under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense.
“Venezuelans didn’t care enough about it. The idea of having the means to protect your home was seen as only needed out in the fields. People never would have believed they needed to defend themselves against the government,” Vanegas explained. “Venezuelans evolved to always hope that our government would be non-tyrannical, non-violator of human rights, and would always have a good enough control of criminality.”
He said it didn’t take long for such a wide-eyed public perception to fall apart. “If guns had been a stronger part of our culture, if there had been a sense of duty for one to protect their individual rights, and as a show of force against a government power – and had legal carry been a common thing – it would have made a huge difference,” he lamented.
Since April 2017, almost 200 pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela – armed mostly with stones – were shot dead by government forces in brutal retaliation to their call to end the oppressive socialist regime. The once oil-wealthy nation has continued its downward spiral into financial ruin, extreme violence, and mass human rights violations. An estimated three million Venezuelans have been forced to flee since 2015.
“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. “The Venezuelan rulers – like their Cuban masters – apparently viewed citizen possession of arms as a potential danger to a permanent communist monopoly of power.”
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