As Biden Preps Gun Ban, Brazil's President Loosens Gun Laws

AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

While President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to get to work on his gun ban, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who unlike many of the politicians in Brazil is supportive of the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is moving in the opposite direction. Bolsonaro has unveiled four new presidential decrees, all of them aimed at easing the restrictions on legal gun owners in the country.

The four decrees, issued late on Friday (Feb 12), increase the number of firearms each Brazilian can own from four to six – or up to 60, for those who practice recreational sport shooting – and authorise them to carry up to two guns in public.

They also double the amount of ammunition that gun enthusiasts can buy for specially regulated weapons to 2,000 rounds per year, and scrap controls on access to specialised sharpshooter scopes, pre-20th-century firearms and ammunition up to 12.7mm in calibre.

Another decree eases licensing requirements for gun collectors, recreational marksmen and hunters, allowing them to obtain the required technical certificate from their gun clubs or shooting ranges.

For decades, Brazil had some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world, and also one of the planet’s highest homicide rates. Even in a country where less than 3% of the population were legal gun owners, however, gun control activists failed in their bid to ban the sale of firearms in Brazil in a 2005 referendum. Public polling had indicated wide support for the ban, but when the votes were actually cast, Brazilians rejected the ban by wide margins. As The Guardian reported at the time:

The Brazilian government, the UN, the Roman Catholic Church and the Globo media conglomerate all supported the move, but the people gave a resounding no in a referendum that proposed a ban on gun sales. With over 90% of the votes counted, 64% rejected the ban.

Sunday’s vote was the world’s first referendum proposing to curb violence through a popular vote, and was seen as crucial to the future of arms controls worldwide.

The electorate rejected the ban despite the high level of firearms-related fatalities in Brazil – 39,000 a year. The UN says guns are the biggest cause of death among young people in the country, leading to more violent deaths than are seen in many war zones.

Guns were already off limits to most residents, but the restrictions meant nothing to the huge numbers of violent criminals in the country. Rather than codify a ban in law, Brazilians sent a message that they wanted to be able to protect themselves, and a little more than a decade later Bolsonaro became president, in part because of a campaign pledge to arm “good people” rather than continuing the failed effort by previous governments to ban their way to safety.

Still, the gun control movement hasn’t disappeared in Brazil, and the anti-gun activists are howling over Bolsonaro’s new reforms.

Marcelo Freixo, a leftist congressman, called Bolsonaro’s actions “a threat to democracy”. “Bolsonaro doesn’t want an armed society because he believes individual rights should be above whatever else … He wants to undermine our institutions so you have a society where a coup d’état can be carried out with guns,” Freixo said, urging citizens to wake up to the threat.

Freixo noted how Brazilian citizens were now buying more ammunition than all of the country’s police forces put together, putting the state’s monopoly on force in check. “What’s happening is extremely serious.”

“I’m very worried because these decrees … have already allowed for an immense amount of guns and ammunition – and much higher calibre guns – to be bought,” said Ilona Szabó, a gun control specialist who runs the Igarapé Institute.

But Szabó said her concerns were about how those weapons might affect Brazil’s democracy, which was restored in 1985 after two decades of military rule, as well as public security.

She feared the flood of new weapons could feed radical US-style citizen militias that Bolsonaro might mobilize for an “anti-democratic adventure” if he lost the next presidential election in 2022. When supporters of Bolsonaro’s political idol, Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol last month after his false claims of election fraud, Brazil’s president warned his country could face something “even worse” in 2022.

“We have a script here that Bolsonaro is following,” Szabó warned. “The risk is too big for the institutions not to push back immediately and suspend these decrees.”

Welcome to the Orwellian world of gun control, where allowing people to protect and defend themselves with firearms is considered anti-democratic, while disarming them is seen as protecting a civil society. I’d remind those Brazilian gun control activists that the storming of the Capitol was undertaken by a handful of people, not millions of armed Americans, and that Joe Biden was sworn in as president just a couple of weeks later. If they want to view American politics as a cautionary tale, they should really be taking a closer look at the rise of the Second Amendment sanctuaries and the record-setting gun sales in the United States since Biden was inaugurated.

The reaction to gun control isn’t generally quiet acceptance, but a surge in gun ownership, and I suspect that holds true in Brazil as well as in the United States. If Brazilian gun control groups want to oust Bolsonaro next year, calling for the re-imposition of gun control laws now is a pretty dumb way to go about it. In fact, the likely result is going to be an increase in gun sales and the elevation of gun ownership as an important campaign issue. Brazilians know that the country’s near-total ban on gun ownership didn’t keep anyone safe, and I doubt that many of them are eager to vote to turn back the clock and negate their own right of self-defense.

 

 

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Jul 29, 2021 12:30 PM ET