For decades now, the nation of Brazil has had some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the Western hemisphere, as well as one of the highest homicide rates on the planet. Since the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, however, the country has seen a relaxing of its gun laws via presidential edict, but those measures can easily be undone the next time an anti-gun politician becomes president.
So, two years after it was first introduced and less than a year before Brazil’s next presidential election, legislation that would codify the pro-gun ownership measures put in place through Bolsonaro’s proclamations is starting to move through the Federal Senate, and could come up for a key vote this week. As you can imagine, anti-gun press outlets both home and abroad, like Foreign Policy, are bemoaning the potential passage of the legislation.
If approved by the Senate, the legislation will virtually erase gains made by the country in the Disarmament Statute, a watershed 2003 law that regulates civilian gun ownership and led to the return of more than 700,000 firearms to the state. This comprehensive law sought to control weapons owned by both civilians and security forces by establishing appropriate control and license-granting institutions, limiting who could access certain firearms, and building databases and mechanisms for tracing and tracking.
Ever since the Disarmament Statute was passed during former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term, representatives in Congress tied to the gun lobby have tried to reverse the legislation, without much success—until Bolsonaro took office. Now, nearly 52 percent of legislators are members of the “bullet caucus,” as this group is popularly known, and they just might be able to push the new legislation through.
The Disarmament Statute has been an abject failure, both in terms of actually disarming Brazilians and reducing the country’s sky-high homicide rate. And there have been clear signs that many Brazilian voters don’t believe that preventing them from lawfully owning a gun is making them any safer. Just four years after the Disarmament Statute was put into law, a voter referendum on one specific section of that law that would have outright banned the possession of firearms in Brazil was rejected by about 2/3rds of voters, despite the fact that less than 2% of Brazilians legally owned a gun at the time.
Bolsonaro’s election itself can be seen as a sign of changing attitudes towards gun control in Brazil, though there are still plenty of folks who say that the status quo should remain in place, despite the fact that it’s clearly not working.
The bill comes with serious security concerns for Brazil’s society. “We are speaking of hundreds of thousands of people being allowed to carry loaded weapons around,” said Natália Pollachi, a project manager at Sou da Paz Institute. “This is a huge risk for public security.”
Brazil’s homicide rate last year is estimated to be 18.5 per 100,000 people, or about three times higher than that of the United States; where 42 states are “shall issue” when it comes to carry licenses, 21 states don’t require a license, more than 20-million Americans are currently carrying with a concealed carry license, and millions more are lawfully carrying without the need for a permit at all.
The huge risk for public security is already present, and if there are hundreds of thousands of Brazilians who are ready to legally carry a firearm for self-defense, I’d say that’s only a reflection of the failure of gun control to make a dent in violent crime.
But that’s not the only argument gun control activists are making in Brazil. They’re also trying to stoke fears that Brazil’s legal gun owners could kick off an insurrection if Bolsonaro loses his re-election bid in October.
Bolsonaro has previously been vocal about his belief in using weapons for political ends. A video released by the Supreme Court of a cabinet meeting in April 2020 showed Bolsonaro telling his ministers he wanted “everyone armed,” since “armed people will never be enslaved,” in reaction to governors imposing lockdown measures around Brazil.
… According to experts, radical pro-gun groups, including the Brazil 300 and the Defense Institute, have started talking about guns in ways that mirror gun rights advocates in the United States. “We have seen throughout these years that when some people speak of ‘the defense of their freedom,’ they want to use firearms for their personal desires, regardless of any rules,” Risso said.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds less pro-insurrection and more pro-personal liberty to me. Then again, since when have anti-gun activists given a damn about the accuracy of their claims about gun owners?
Even if this pro-gun bill is approved by Brazil’s Federal Senate, the country would have a long way to go before the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense would truly be established and protected. Still, it would definitely push the country in the right direction, and I hope that Bolsonaro can wrangle the votes to get the legislation across the finish line.