The Bogota ban on carrying weapons has taken away the means of civilians to protect themselves against a very real criminal threat. Mayor Gustavo Petro apparently is well aware of this, taking into account the number of bodyguards he has.
The ban proposed by Mayor Gustavo Petro and approved by the 13th Brigade of the Colombian Army came into force on Wednesday. For three months, the legal possession of weapons will be prohibited in Colombia’s capital.
Those who, like Petro, are opposed to the possession and use of weapons consider them to be “instruments of death.” It is sheer populism and empathy for a cause which bears no relation to the reality of weapons, and moreover the fundamental and undeniable right to legitimate defense.
One of the advantages of being a politician is that while weapons are banned to the public, the mayor is permitted to carry them in order to protect himself from possible attempts on his life. What is more, if he doesn’t want to carry around the extra weight on his belt, he has a budget for a group of bodyguards to protect him and his family that is paid for by those of us to whom the weapons ban applies.
So, in making use of his bodyguards Gustavo Petro acknowledges the potential dangers of having to get around the city’s streets – those same streets that most of Bogota’s population has to make its way through on a daily basis.
In support of his decision, the mayor argues that a large number of murders in the city are committed with guns. However, he is not aware that practically all of these murders are the result of the possession and trafficking of illegal weapons, meaning those on which his policy has no bearing. Petro is therefore creating a false relationship between the possession of legal weapons and the number of murders in Bogota.
Banning the possession of legal weapons — in a scenario whereby political forces have no capacity to effectively protect citizens (because of their own management issues and moral conflicts owing previous measures) and illegal weapons remain in circulation — is a policy which, in addition to being ludicrous, is homicidal.
If we are seeking a real reduction in the number of murders carried out with firearms, we must tighten the criminal laws that sanction this kind of murder and the illegal possession of such weapons, rather than prohibiting our means of defending ourselves from the underworld.
We do not need to look very far to see that the current mayor only served a 16-month prison sentence for illegal possession of an “instrument of death.” Perhaps a longer sentence would have discouraged the young, rebellious Francisco Gustavo who, at the time, sought to impose his ideas with bullets, making use of the very means with which criminals now seek to rob others’ property and accumulate capital.
Knowing that the sentence is mild and that there is no opportunity for the victim to respond can only make potential aggressors more likely to commit their crime than not. This kind of incoherence, which reaffirms the State’s incapacity, has led companies and individuals, one-by-one, to contract other kinds of security services. Today, many people have alarms, private security, bodyguards and, in many other cases or in addition to the above, weapons which enable them to safeguard their lives.
Another point that the mayor ignores is that the use of weapons in defence does not involve aggression or the criminal being murdered. In many cases, the weapon is not even used. The mere possibility that a potential victim is carrying a weapon, or his demonstration of this fact, is a perfectly valid and effective means of dissuading an aggressor and a legitimate form of defence. The aggressor will consider, in addition to the legal implications, the risk he runs if he attacks an armed person who is capable of defending himself.
Crime and violence themselves take place, as the mayor himself has come to acknowledge, in places stricken by poverty and in places where there is a startling absence of security policies or police forces. The number of legal weapons therefore has nothing to do with the increase in misdemeanours – on the contrary, it combats them.
Real weapons security depends on education and personal responsibility, not prohibition. Decent people should be able to defend themselves from the attacks which may occur from day-to-day on their lives or their property. The response lies in reinforcing defense and toughening punishments, not in prohibition or the creation of more red tape and laws which only increase the State’s level of responsibility in a task that — as the mayor himself has acknowledged with his bodyguards — it is not capable of handling effectively.