Are Venezuelans Being ‘Shot in the Streets’ After a 2012 Gun Ban?
A massively popular social media post relies on a lack of understanding of events in Venezuela.
The status update, which came in text form without news links or other form of citation or context, and it drew a direct line between purported gun control measures in 2012 and Venezuelan unrest in April and May 2012. As is common with successful falsehoods, the claim contained at least one grain of truth — seven years prior to the meme’s appearance, Venezuela did pass gun control legislation:
Venezuela has brought a new gun law into effect which bans the commercial sale of firearms and ammunition.
Until now, anyone with a gun permit could buy arms from a private company.
Under the new law, only the army, police and certain groups like security companies will be able to buy arms from the state-owned weapons manufacturer and importer.
The ban is the latest attempt by the government to improve security and cut crime ahead of elections in October [2012.]
Readers with minor interest in the claim could Google “Venezuela gun ban” and come across news stories reporting the 2012 change in laws relating to gun ownership, which potentially added to the implication that this claim was accurate in its entirety.
In the second portion of the post, the user stated “Venezuelans [are today] being shot dead in the streets by their own government #socialism,” and most commenters appeared to consider the two separate to be equally accurate — and a case of cause and effect. Gun ownership was restricted in 2012, but was the government of Venezuela taking advantage of an unarmed populace to randomly murder its citizens in April and May 2019?
As noted in prior fact checks, complex recent and not-so-recent events in Venezuela were sometimes misunderstood or misrepresented to advance American political viewpoints. But the issue to which the Facebook post alluded was summarized in a May 1 2019 Vox article titled “Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has launched a military uprising to topple Maduro”:
Juan Guaidó, the US-backed opposition leader of Venezuela, launched a military uprising against President Nicolás Maduro on [April 30 2019] — a dramatic escalation in the ongoing political fight between the two rivals that threatens to plunge the country into open civil conflict.
In January, Guaidó declared himself the country’s rightful president. He argued that Maduro, who has been in power for six years, rigged the election last May  that kept him in power — and that as a result, Guaidó, as the head of the National Assembly, is now the rightful interim president of the country according to the Venezuelan constitution.
For weeks, Guaidó’s supporters have held protests aimed in part at convincing the nation’s military, which has thus far remained loyal to Maduro, to break with the dictator and support Guaidó. Experts say that without that support, Guaidó chances of seizing control of the country remain small.
So at dawn on [April 30 2019], Guaidó launched his boldest — and riskiest — gambit yet: releasing a video calling on the entire country, including the military, to rise up and overthrow Maduro once and for all.
Flanked by a few dozen armed members of the Venezuelan National Guard and several armored vehicles at an airbase in the capital city of Caracas, Guaidó announced the start of what he called “Operación Libertad” (Operation Liberty), which he said was the “final phase” of the push to remove the entrenched socialist leader.
“Our armed forces, brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men who follow the constitution have heard our call,” Guaidó in the video. “People of Venezuela, we will go to the street with the armed forces to continue taking the streets until we consolidate the end of usurpation, which is already irreversible.”
In short, Guaidó challenged Maduro on April 30 2019, claiming that Maduro’s May 2018 election win was illegitimate. In the throes of a coup, not-unexpected protests broke out in the streets of Caracas. Although injuries and some deaths were reported, it seemed to largely occur between opposing factions of citizens. In one report, a protester was described as “crushed” by a vehicle (not shot):
Anti-government protesters in Venezuela were engaged in running street battles with security forces, as interim President Juan Guaidó said factions of the military were supporting his high stakes push to oust Nicolás Maduro.
In the opposition strongholds of eastern Caracas, armored troop carriers loyal to Maduro rammed into demonstrators armed with little more than rocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails. Local TV showed one of the vehicles driving over the median and crushing a protester.
Eyewitnesses said forces loyal to Guaidó had taken the Altamira overpass, which bisects the city, and thousands of demonstrators were seen swarming onto the streets amid reports of gunfire and confrontations.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said there was a coup underway, but called it “insignificant” and said it was under control.
Some reports indicated that “state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.” Additional news from around the time the Facebook post was shared noted that not all protests were violent:
In the west side of the city there was a pro-government demonstration. Despite very few attendants at the last rallies called by the government, this one on [May 1 2019] seemed to be full of their supporters. May Day has always been a very significant date for the leftist Venezuelan government — it is something they have traditionally marked.
The pro-government march was peaceful; there was a party atmosphere there, with music and dancing.
From there we went to a square in Altamira, an opposition stronghold. It was also full of people, peaceful protesters so far — although there are reports coming through of shots fired somewhere in the city. There were more attendants than in the last protests called by Mr Guaidó.
But the rest of the city was completely calm. We’ve seen people walking dogs and buying fruit. Some said they could not go to work on Tuesday because their employers told them not to go, but their areas have remained peaceful.
Overall, at least 27 injuries were reported on that day of protesting, but none appeared to be Venezuelans “being shot dead in the streets by their own government.”
Although Venezuela did restrict gun ownership in 2012, late April and early May 2019 news reports indicated that Venezuelans were anything but powerless as citizens due to the legislation. Protesters took to the streets in support of both Guaidó and Maduro, in demonstrations that ranged from violent to peaceful. However, no news outlets reported Venezuelans “being shot dead in the streets by their own government,” nor did any of them claim that gun laws had any effect on the ability of the citizens of Venezuela to protest.