Brazil's gun ownership soars under Bolsonaro

(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro ran for office in part on expanding gun rights in the crime-ridden South American nation.

Once he took office, he followed through on that promise. Whether it was a strong desire to restore gun rights to Brazil’s citizens or just politics, it doesn’t matter. He did what he said he would do.

And because of that, gun ownership has increased.

Thanks to President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist whose hero is former President Donald Trump, it’s become a lot easier for Brazilians like Carneiro to get guns. Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has issued more than a dozen decrees loosening restrictions on gun ownership for civilians.

Bolsonaro, who faces a tough reelection battle in October, has avidly courted Brazil’s growing gun lobby and often poses for photos making a gun sign with his thumb and forefinger.

“Expanding the right of the population to bear arms has been one of Bolsonaro’s main electoral promises from day one,” says Fábio Zanini, a columnist for Folha de S.Paulo, a leading Brazilian newspaper. “Gun owners are one of his main electoral bases.”

There are still more gun regulations in Brazil than in the United States, including mandatory psychological and firearm safety exams. But now private citizens can buy more powerful handguns and ammunition and in greater quantities. Collectors and competitive shooters can purchase automatic rifles.

I’m willing to bet that’s actually semi-automatic, but no one expects NPR to know the difference.

Moving on…

Since 2018, the number of guns in private hands has doubled to nearly 2 million, according to data from Brazil’s army and police analyzed by Brazilian security think tank Sou da Paz.

Gun stores and shooting tournaments are popping up all over Brazil. They include the massive Schützenfest, held in southern Brazil where many people are of German descent, and is a combination of beer-drenched Oktoberfest and shooting guns. An average of one new shooting range per day has opened during Bolsonaro’s nearly four years in office, Brazil’s UOL website reported.

Now, looking at this, I can’t help but see it as good news. Clearly, NPR wouldn’t, but that’s fine. We’re used to that and I don’t Bolsonaro actually cares all that much what they have to say about him either.

The question is, has the crime rate responded?

Well, it has gone down. In fact, even NPR acknowledges this. Sort of.

After President Bolsonaro, Brazil’s highest-profile gun advocate, is his son, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro. In July, he celebrated his 38th birthday with a cake decorated with a revolver. He claims that looser gun regulations have helped bring down Brazil’s homicide rate.

“It was the biggest drop in murders … since 1980,” he told Tucker Carlson of Fox News in June. “So, Brazil is safer, thanks God, because of this policy.”

But the country’s homicide rate was on its way down even before Bolsonaro took office, says Bruno Langeani, the manager of Sou da Paz. And in spite of this trend, the murder rate here of over 22 killings per 100,000 people was still more than three times higher than in the U.S. in 2020, according to World Bank figures.

Was it?

Well, yes. However, only the drop in 2017 can definitively be cited as having nothing to do with Bolsonaro. He ran in 2018 on liberalizing gun laws. His win may well have been enough of a signal for many criminals to start looking for other opportunities.

As for the country’s high homicide rate, well, yes, that is what it is.

However, I think it might be beneficial for NPR to remember that they already mentioned how even after Bolsonaro’s reform efforts, the country still has the kinds of gun control that anti-gunners here could only dream of.

If gun control is the answer, then why is crime going down now that gun laws have been liberalized? They acknowledge the crime rate is still dropping, even if they refuse to attribute it to gun reform. Yet if more guns in more private hands lead to crime, then Brazil’s crime rate should be soaring as well as gun ownership.

It’s not.

In fact, the homicide rate fell to its lowest rate in 14 years in 2021. If guns are a problem, that simply shouldn’t happen.

That’s bad news for American gun grabbers and likely bad news for Brazilian ones as well.