Venezuela has initiated a nationwide disarmament as part of their fight against violent crimes in the country. This disarmament comes as an extension of the existing gun ban, which was put into effect in 2013 by the current President, Nicolás Maduro, and ordered by the late President, Hugo Chávez, in 2012. The gun ban outlawed the private ownership of all firearms by private companies, and only permitted police, military, and security officers to purchase them from a state-owned distributor. Before the ban, anyone with a permit could buy a gun (Grainger). Currently, Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, second only to Honduras. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, Venezuela’s murder rate in 2012 (the last recorded year) was 53.7 per 100,000 people (UNODC). President Maduro set up the USD 47 million plan to create 60 disarmament centers around the country for civilians to hand in their guns without penalty, as well as a separate USD 39 million plan to install security cameras and hire about 2,000 soldiers to work alongside police around the country (Lee). However, many people are skeptical of this decision, citing issues of personal protection and instillation of fear by the police force and government employees.
The Venezuelan government initially launched the gun ban in September of 2013. Violators could serve up to 25 years in prison. Nicolás Maduro stated that the ban was an “instrument of peace,” and then proceeded to announce the disarmament on the International Day of Peace on Sunday, September 21, 2014. Maduro stated during the announcement, “We are building peace from within, and for that, you need disarmament” (Lee).
According to President Maduro, figures for the annual murder rate have decreased since the 2013 ban, from 53.7 per 100,000 to close to 39 per 100,000. The president did not provide any additional details on the matter, and since 2012, Venezuela has refused to make such data available to the public. No other organization, even the United Nations, has data for Venezuela in this category past 2012, and although Maduro is making claims that numbers have drastically fallen since the ban, other groups, namely the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (VVO), which is a non-governmental organization, puts forth much larger estimates. The VVO claims that murder rates have skyrocketed since the ban, with a 2013 rate of close to 79 per 100,000, more than four times the rate in 1998, which was around 19 per 100,000 (Huffington Post). Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine whether or not the gun ban has been effective due to these conflicting reports.
In comparison, the United States, whose constitution gives citizens the right to own firearms, has a murder rate of only 4.7 per 100,000, below the worldwide average of 6.2 per 100,000. Texas, a state whose population is comparable to Venezuela’s and arguably with the loosest gun laws, has a rate below the national average, sitting at 4.4 per 100,000. The state with the highest rate is Louisiana, with 10.8, and the lowest is New Hampshire, with 1.1 (FBI Uniform Crime Reports). However, on the opposite end of the gun control spectrum lie Japan and Australia. Australia banned private gun ownership after a 1996 massacre in Tasmania left 35 dead. The ban included a “buy-back” program where citizens would be reimbursed for the personal firearms that they had given up. The country saw a substantial decrease in the murder rate, and is among the lowest in the world at 1.1 per 100,000 (Matthews). Citizens of Japan are allowed to carry shotguns only for sport, and the country boasts a staggering 0.3 per 100,000, with a population of 127 million (Gun Policy).
Given the statistics, it is difficult to determine whether or not the Venezuelan disarmament will truly decrease the ever-growing murder rate. We can only hope that President Maduro’s plan is a success, but perhaps he will need to do more in order to ensure the safety of his people.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation. “FBI Uniform Crime Reports.” Available at:http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/4tabledatadecoverviewpdf/table_4_crime_in_the_united_states_by_region_geographic_division_and_state_2011-2012.xls
GunPolicy.org. Japan—Gun Facts, Figures and the Law. Available at:http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/japan
Grainger, Sarah. The BBC. “Venezuela bans private gun ownership.” Available at:http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-18288430
Huffington Post. “Venezuela’s Homicide Rate Quadruples in Fifteen Years, NGO Reports.” Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/26/venezuela-homicide-rate_n_4506363.html
Lee, Brianna. International Business Times. “Venezuela Launches Disarmament Program.” Available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/venezuela-launches-disarmament-program-1692919
Matthews, Dylan. The Washington Post. “Did gun control work in Australia?” Available at:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/02/did-gun-control-work-in-australia
United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. “Homicide counts and rates, time series 2000-2012.”
Table available at: http://www.unodc.org/gsh/en/data.html