In Chile after the Earthquake: “We Want Guns”

by Larry Pratt

Chileans were shocked by the February 27 earthquake.  Yes, the resultant devastation was impressive, but not nearly as lethal as the one in Haiti.  Some of the most rigorous building codes in the world saved many, many lives from a much stronger earthquake in Chile than the one that shook Haiti. 

What did shock Chileans was the ensuing violence that was unleashed following the earthquake.  Chile’s government TV news channel, 24 Horas, provided continuous coverage of scenes of damaged, and occasionally destroyed, buildings.  Interviews with people revealed their disbelief that there was more violence following Chile’s quake than had occurred in Haiti. 

It did not take long for gangs to form and sweep through residential and commercial neighborhoods.  The outgoing socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, had a life-long hatred of the military that had ousted Communist President Salvador Allende back in the 1970s.  The marauding gangs were more than the police could handle and the situation was deteriorating. 

President-in-waiting Sebastian Pinera criticized Bachelet, and after a couple of days of waiting -- where the people were left defenseless against the violent elements of the country -- the military was finally deployed.  They found many chaotic areas, and the TV accounts recorded the horror suffered by whole neighborhoods. 

In some cases, citizens had to stay up all night with whatever weapons they had -- clubs, a few hunting rifles or anything at all -- to defend their homes and their families.  The hordes who were invading neighborhoods were wielding knives.  The first night after the quake was horrific.

Unlike our response to Hurricane Katrina, the Chilean authorities did not feel compelled to confiscate the occasional firearm owned by citizens, but that’s because Chile already has stringent gun control laws.  Semi-automatic firearms and machine guns are illegal for “mere” civilians, although there are some hunting rifles and handguns in the hands of the people -- weapons which were effectively employed in self-defense.

As 24 Horas reported, bonfires and self-defense groups proliferated throughout the city of Concepcion -- where the quake hit the hardest. But looting continued throughout that first day. 

Supermarkets were pillaged.  In one case, after miscreants looted the food and building material out of a supermarket, they torched the empty hull and created a fire so fierce that it spread to other buildings.  Fighting a fire when the water supply has been cut off becomes extremely difficult.

In the town of Chihuayante, every supermarket was stripped bare.  Some Chileans might have excused the taking of food, that was going to perish anyway, from a store where no one was available to make a sale.  But stripping the building materials off of the store?  Chileans were questioning as to what kind of a people they are.

24 Horas reported on neighborhoods where entry was restricted and residents armed with handguns and shotguns (dare we say “militias”?) stood guard to protect their families. 

The socialist bias of the government’s TV network came through when self-defense was labeled a “spirit of vigilantism.”  Vigilantism it was not, and 24 Hora’s own reportage put the lie to the libel when they reported that neighbors said that the police had come and authorized them to use their guns to protect their neighborhoods.  Rather than vigilantism, what really was occurring was closer to a posse. 

The benefit of armed citizens was visible in footage which showed a group of armed neighbors arresting some thugs with the help of the police.  Other neighborhood scenes showed citizen self-defense patrols with some guns among them. 

In one scene, a group of women saw the television cameras recording the thuggery and responded by marching toward the reporter chanting: “We want guns!  We want guns!”  (You can see this chant, with English subtitles, at about 5:35 minutes in the video at http://gunowners.org/earthquake .)
 
Sadly, the neighbors had previously asked the soldiers for guns, but they had been denied.  That would have been a perfect moment to organize Gun Owners of Chile! 

But isn’t it interesting:  it does not matter where one is or what language is being spoken, bad people will take advantage of the weak and helpless. 

In 1992, USA Today reported that many of the people rushing to gun stores during the riots in Los Angeles were “lifelong gun-control advocates, running to buy an item they thought they'd never need.” Ironically, they were outraged to discover they had to wait 15 days to buy a gun for self-defense.

As in Los Angeles, so in Chile … gun control only affects the good guys, while the bad guys manage to arm themselves.  And even though they may be armed, the thugs still try to avoid the few who manage to arm themselves for protection.  Effective self-defense means the sparing of lives and properties.

We must insist that our employees who work for us in government stop taking sides with predators and start getting out of the way so the rest of us can take care of business. 

Whether we study the riots in Los Angeles, or the hurricane in New Orleans or the earthquake in Chile, disasters overwhelm the authorities.  If we allow ourselves to be disarmed by our employees, we can be sure they will be of no use during an emergency.