The Right to Bear Arms Would Save Lives in Venezuela

Venezuelan security forces fire tear gas at protesters in February 2014. (Flickr)
Venezuelan security forces fire tear gas at protesters in February 2014. (Flickr)

EspañolThe Venezuelan National Police’s killing of Kluiverth Roa in late February sparked an uproar, and caused students to march in protest across the country. What started out as a peaceful protest ended with the shooting of unarmed demonstrators: six others were discovered shot dead after being arrested by police.

Sadly these types of events have only increased in the wake of 2014’s student protests. To make matters worse, recent rulings from the Venezuelan Department of Defense have effectively given the armed forces carte blanche to use lethal force against non-violent protesters.

These incidents of oppression demonstrate that Venezuelans are absolutely defenseless against violence coming from the state, paramilitary actors, and common criminals. There should be no doubt that what Venezuelans face today is a dictatorship, not a democratic regime.

But what tends to be overlooked is the role that gun control has played in the oppression of the Venezuelan people. Simply put, Venezuelan state security forces can now gun down their opponents without fear of reprisal.

Radical gun-control policies always end with a disarmed populace at the mercy of criminals and authoritarian governments. This is not an unintended consequence of policies by misguided officials, these are intentional measures used to control the populace. At the end of the day, gun control is people control.

The Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 is in itself ambivalent on the right to bear arms. This allowed the Hugo Chávez regime to impose various restrictions on gun ownership during his tenure. To make matters worse, in 2012, Venezuela passed a wide-ranging firearm ban in the name of battling crime: the police and military, of course, were exempted. The stage was set for multiple government abuses.

History is replete with examples of gun control leading to tyranny, even genocide in the worst-case scenarios. The US Founding Fathers were ahead of their time when it came to the matter of gun ownership. They experienced firsthand under British rule how coercive governments use gun control as a springboard for greater tyranny. In response, they codified the right to bear arms in the US Constitution.

The right to bear arms is a right that has been taken for granted, and implemented, albeit inconsistently, around the world. The Second Amendment has historically served the dual purpose of preventing aggressive forms of authoritarianism and providing US Americans with a means to defend themselves from criminals.

The United States has experienced decreasing crime rates in the past 20 years, in large part to firearm liberalization measures enacted by many states, who have successfully invoked the Second Amendment. Criminals, in uniform or otherwise, think twice about committing misdeeds if their victim can fight back on equal terms.

The case of Venezuela, meanwhile, shows the perils of an authoritarian government abusing its position to clamp down on gun ownership. Once the rule of law is gone, the government comes for citizens’ handguns to prevent an internal uprising.

The bloody aftermath of last year’s protests showed the dangers of the population having no means of defending itself from a government armed to the teeth. The unrest, and the violent repression, will only continue as the economy spirals downward.

Millions of Venezuelans have already left the country, and many more are waiting to get out. When there is little economic opportunity, no rule of law, and you can’t defend yourself, the only option left is to flee your country.

The failures and tragedies of Venezuela’s recent history can be chalked up to multiple causes, but one at least is certain: the imposition of oppressive controls over gun ownership.

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