Merida, June 5th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) has approved a new law that restricts access to firearms and provides an amnesty for owners of illegal firearms to surrender their weapons.
The Law for the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Disarmament was passed by the AN on Tuesday, and is set to be enacted into law next week, on June 11.
According to the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on domestic policy, Elvis Amoroso, the law is “guaranteed” to save lives.
“Every time you take a gun away from a criminal, it benefits people who would have been robbed,” he stated.
The new law mandates the Venezuelan armed forces with sole “jurisdiction to authorise the manufacture, import, export and marketing of all kinds of weapons.”
The law also imposes an 8 to 10 year sentence for individuals who smuggle firearms into Venezuelan prisons; though the maximum penalty is higher for police and military personnel.
Illegal ownership of a firearm will attract a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, but the AN also approved a controversial article that extends an amnesty on individuals that voluntarily surrender guns to law enforcement; even if the weapon may have been procured illegally.
Opposition legislator Leomagno Flores stated that the government should not be allowed to “grant amnesty” unconditionally; however the article was included, and the law passed the AN unanimously.
The law also prohibits the display of firearms in public places, and imposes a ban on “all nuclear, chemical, biological and weapons of mass destruction” within Venezuelan territory.
It also proposes the creation of a fund to compensate victims of gun crime. Under the proposition, firearm manufacturers, importers and retailers would be required to contribute 5% of their net profits to the fund.
Speaking to public channel VTV on Tuesday, the law was described as a significant step towards reducing gun violence by Freddy Bernal, the president of the Presidential Commission for Disarmament.
As a bipartisan working group of legislators, the commission was tasked with drafting the law. However, Bernal conceded that “the problem of crime is... multi-faceted”, and argued that more needs to be done.
Bernal also blamed the media for “promoting violence”, and stated that broadcasters and publishers should do more to promote “peace, harmony, reconciliation among citizens and an understanding that violence cannot be the way to resolve conflicts.”
First proposed in January 2010, draft legislation on the law had been subject to public scrutiny since August 2011, when the first public debate on the law was held in the city of Maracay, Aragua state. Since then, according to Bernal there have been 11 public consultations and 42 “technical” meetings with law enforcement bodies and “other organisations involved in the development, control and use of weapons and ammunition”. He described the legislation as “sufficiently debated”.
Venezuela has one of the world's highest rates of gun violence; in 2011, the government estimated that 94% of homicides involved firearms. In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put the country's homicide rate at 45.1 per 100,000.
Since last year, the government has imposed a nationwide ban on all firearm and ammunition sales. Law enforcement, private security firms, gun sports and the military have been exempted from the ban.