Disarmament Law in Venezuela Yields Near Zero Results

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A year after Venezuela enacted a new gun control and disarmament law, less than one percent of illegal weapons have been taken off the streets and the flaws initially highlighted by critics remain largely unaddressed.

Since the Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law came into force in June 2013, authorities have seized 12,603 illegal weapons, while only 37 guns have been voluntarily handed in, reported El Nacional. Estimates for the number of guns in circulation in Venezuela range from a one to six million.

In addition, the number of arms destroyed by the authorities — which can also include weapons seized in previous years and kept as evidence — fell by 34.1 percent in 2013, according to El Nacional.

InSight Crime Analysis

The preliminary statistics for the first year of Venezuela’s disarmament law paint a damning picture that confirms the fears and criticism expressed on both sides of the political divide when the law was first passed.

When the law came into force, members of the political opposition criticized the government for its “double discourse” — pushing for disarmament while simultaneously backing illegal armed groups such as the Caracas “colectivos” and calling for the creation of “workers militias.” Throughout the political turmoil of the last year, this issue has come to the fore as these armed groups mobilized to confront anti-government protesters, making it even less likely the government will push to disarm them.

Critics have also attacked the law from the left for not addressing underlying social causes of violence, an issue that has fallen further from the agenda as the Maduro administration has focused on shoring up support in the face of opposition protests and rumors of internal splits.

In addition, the law was criticized from a practical angle for not paying enough attention to issues such as the diversion of legally bought weapons into the illegal market, and the monitoring of the state arms company and military stocks, which are often sold into the black market by corrupt officials.

However, as is all too often the case with Venezuelan security policies, perhaps the main reason for the law’s failure to make significant gains is a lack of political will. Without the serious political backing and resources required to tackle a complex and deeply engrained issue, the policy looks set to join a raft of security measures — including previous gun control efforts — that amount to little beyond gesture politics.

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