Venezuela banned private citizens from owning guns seven years ago, leaving firearms solely in the hands of the army and the police. Now, as the country’s opposition attempts to oust the oppressive Maduro regime from power, it is a decision some have come to regret.
Interim President Juan Guaido called for a military uprising, dubbed Operacion Libertad, against socialist dictator Nicholas Maduro on Tuesday. Venezuelans have been protesting for months against Maduro’s “re-election,” which the United States has declared to be illegitimate in light of Maduro’s jailing of political dissidents and protesters. (RELATED: Firefights In Venezuelan Capital As Military Uprising Ensues)
As the unrest in the country approached a breaking point, some citizens told Fox News in December that they wished they had guns available to them to fight back against the Maduro regime. A 2012 gun ban made that option all but impossible.
“It was never easy to obtain a handgun permit in Venezuela but at least before 2012 it was possible,” Daniel Di Martino, a Venezuelan expatriate, told The Daily Caller. “Since Venezuelans are unarmed we now depend on a military uprising for our freedom rather than a popular uprising.”
Under the June 2012 law, only the military, police forces, and some security contractors could purchase firearms from a state-owned weapons manufacturer. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader at the time, claimed the law would curb the country’s high rate of violent crime and said the ultimate goal was to disarm all private citizens.
In 2013, just 37 weapons were handed over voluntarily. More than 12,500 were confiscated by force.
Maduro ramped up the program in 2014, expending more than $47 million to enforce the ban. His tactics included “grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town square,” according to Fox News.
Citizens who disobey the ban face 20 years in prison.
“Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight,” Javier Vanegas, a Venezuelan teacher 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.”
He added, “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.”
Omar Adolfo Zares Sanchez, a lawyer and politician, suggested citizens could have combated the Maduro regime much sooner if they had access to guns.
“Without a doubt, if there had been a balance of armed defense we could have stood up and stopped the oppression at the beginning,” he said. “But there is too much anarchy on the streets now. Making guns easier for anybody to buy now would start a civil war.”
Instead, civilian protesters arm themselves with rocks and molotov cocktails while Maduro forces gun down their opposition.
Other Venezuelans noted that the crime rate has only soared since the gun ban, and criticized local police who are largely unable to protect them from criminals.
“Now the criminal mother is unleashed,” Luis Farias told Fox. “Trying to ban guns didn’t take guns off the streets. Nobody cares about the law; the criminals don’t care about the law.”