Gun Control in Brazil

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Introduction

Debates concerning the effectiveness of gun control are emotionally heated, and no black and white issue. As the issue of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States heats up again, analysts are looking to the example of Brazil to emphasize that restriction and regulation are not always a guarantee of public safety. Brazil has long held some of the strictest gun control laws in the world but suffers from gun violence killing five people every hour. While this seems illogical, a deeper look into the context may shed some clues on how the world could learn from this cautionary tale. 

Questions of Safety

To understand the situation in Brazil, UNESO worked with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences and the Brazilian government to chart the rates of gun violence. They found;

Firearms are responsible for 116 deaths every day in Brazil

gun violence ended a staggering 42,416 lives in 2012 alone

The national mortality rate of 21.9 gun-related fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants — of which nearly 95 percent are homicides, while the balance includes suicides, accidents, and unexplained cases — is the second highest ever recorded in the annual study's 35-year history.

Nearly 60 percent of the victims were young people aged between 15 and 29 years of age.

Black individuals were found to be 142 percent more likely to be shot and killed than those who are white. (Travener)

This is a truly incredible rate of violence in any case, but especially in the case of Brazil who have maintained strict gun laws. Introduced in 2003, the Disarmament Statue changed how Brazilians related with guns “restricted gun ownership to those over 25 years of age and introduced security checks and a national firearms register” (Travener). While the government claims this change saved 160,000 lives between 2004 and 2012, the recent increase in gun violence is believed to be linked to this change. As one Sao Paulo firearms merchant confessed to Vice News; 

‘The statute improved nothing, and now crime and deaths are up…The authorities focused on regulating legal purchases to an absurd extent. It can take up to a year to get a license here.’ He argued that the obstacles to ownership pushed people into buying illegal weapons. The country's civilians are estimated to own upwards of 18 million guns, with more than half of them believed to be illicit. (Travener)

As a result there is a strong movement in Brazil to relax the gun laws, but experts come down on both sides of the debate (Glickhouse). Federal Deputy Marco Montes, the commission president in charge of advocating to repeal the laws asserts, “There is a mountain of bureaucracy and many costs involved today…The poor in society cannot afford guns because they are expensive. The statute needs to be adjusted” (Travener). In support of this belief Montes receives donations from the National Association of Arms and Ammunition, armament companies, and those Brazilian citizens who desire guns for perceived protection. 

However, there is the rub-perceived protection is not actual protection. As former colonel and Brazil’s former national secretary of public security, Silva Filho, asserts’ The statute, which was a preliminary step, only had a limited effect, but giving people access to more guns is not the answer…It's thought that 15 percent of Brazilians have a weapon, compared to around 90 percent in the United States, but the difference is that [in Brazil] every additional percentage point of gun ownership pushes homicides up two percent.

From a lifetime of experience and analysis, Filho points out that Brazil is a much different culture than America. Filho asserts, “Brazilians on average kill six times as many people as Americans do’ [and] Silva argues that Brazil's gun problem is not centered on the quantity of guns, but on the impunity of their use” (Travener). If that is the case public safety should be focused on how to end the illegal gun trade, and increase penalties for those who violate it in the interest of real safety and not perceived safety. 

Further investigation into the context reveals that gun violence in Brazil is not simply a result of regulations “forcing” citizens to illegally buy arms to support themselves. As; The Map of Violence report concluded that Brazilian society generally condones the use of violence to resolve interpersonal disputes, such as road rage incidents or personal arguments. It also blamed inadequate police investigations and a sluggish justice system, in which many cases are thrown out, for fostering an atmosphere of violence. ()

Thus, corruption throughout the entire system, and a cultural propensity of violence is at the root of this cultural conundrum. As a result, “Public safety advocates in Brazil have called for greater vigilance on the part of the country's police forces, with particular focus on ensuring that guns seized by authorities do not go back into circulation” (Travener). Brazil is one of the most violent countries on Earth, and emotion is at the root of, not greed or crime, but passion. Thus, removing the tools to express that rage is key (BBC). 

What if?

Apparently unwilling to take responsibility for the corruption and emotional perversion which sanctions violence as an option, the Brazilian government is seriously considering removing all the gun laws. Analysts have asserted that this would create a “Wild West” scenario, but even more violent due to the national character of Brazil. If this were to occur, one could visualize a breakdown of the limited social control which exists;

Under the law, anyone over 21, including people accused of crimes or convicted of less than serious crimes, would be allowed to purchase up to nine firearms a year and 50 rounds of ammunition a month. State employees and public figures, ranging from government inspectors to politicians, would be authorized to carry arms, as would private citizens often in the public eye such as taxi drivers. (Crime Research)

‘Without doubt we will see an increase in the murder rate,” says Ivan Marques, executive director of the Sou de Paz institute, which campaigns for disarmament. ‘The number of deaths is directly related to the number of guns on the streets.’ (Sandy)

Those who support the rearmament of the Brazilian citizens have been termed by opponents as the Bullets, Beef and Bible Caucus. In this way they do resemble the American perspective. Guns are part of a larger conservative movement in the nation;

Politicians linked to the security services, big agricultural firms and evangelical Christians consolidated their power in last year’s elections and have advanced a series of conservative measures. Among the other laws being debated are a plan to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 16; narrow the country’s robust definition of slave labor; weaken indigenous tribes’ right to claim their ancestral lands; exclude homosexual couples from the definition of family; and limit access to abortion in cases of rape. (Sandy)

The move towards greater armament is part of this much larger movement which does not appear to resonate with the freedom and security of the average Braizilian, but supports prejudice, profiteering, and human rights violations. Considering the national character’s propensity to violence such denigrations into bestiality much be averted with as much force as possible. In this case the government could act on behalf of the people who may not see what is best for them, as their emotions are raging. Rogerio Peninha Mendoca of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party believes, “congress must respect the rights of the Brazilian people, who voted against a ban on arms sales in a 2005 vote. ‘I’ll tell my kids that we are recovering our rights…We are not arming anybody’” (Sandy). This is a short sighted and all too common perspective. 

It is unclear why Brazilian politicians are moving towards deregulation, since it is an overly simplistic approach to a serious issue. To this question, “The politicians say the measures are necessary to allow embattled citizens the right to defend themselves from criminals armed with illegal weapons. But opponents say the move will only increase the country’s toll of nearly 60,000 murders in 2014” (Sandy). The majority of the public seems keen to get their guns back, and considering the national propensity for violence this should be avoided (Barcia-Navarro).  

The responsibility for this denigration of safety is solely upon the shoulders of the government, who have allowed lax and corrupt police methods to push the public into insecurity. Some representatives understand this, such as Alessandro Molon of the Sustainability Network party, who in opposition to the reform told the committee, “The approval of the law by a congressional committee this month is a ‘confession of bankruptcy…We are saying, ‘thanks to our incompetence, you can defend yourselves and live in a Western because we are inept’” (Sandy). This really sums up the situation, and the government of Brazil should continue with reforms which address the root causes of gun violence. 

Those who advocate for the freedom to bear arms in Brazil cite the American example, but how that exactly supports their position in unclear. After all, as “Marques said Brazil should not try to emulate the United States. ‘Our constitution emphasizes collective security not individual security’ (Sandy). Even the gun liberties in the United States have the public on edge as mass shootings, gun violence, and suicide continue to rise. When complicated by the differences in the two national characters, allusions to America must break down. The desire for violence supports a Brazilian “black market in firearms remains huge. In 2014, police seized nearly 120,000 illegal weapons” (Sandy). Such type of violence would become even more out of control if regulations were shredded (Nehama and Brufatto De Oliveria). 

Conclusion

The situation of gun violence in Brazil is a cautionary case study on how a public’s desire can lead to their very endangering. The value of violence is misconstrued throughout the world, but in Brazil this is taken to the extreme. The public, the children, and those who have the emotional awareness not to see violence as a means of settling things must be protected from those who are out of control.

Works Cited

Barcia-Navarro, Lulu. “Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws.” NPR, 28 Mar. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/03/28/472157969/brazil-has-nearly-60-000-murders-and-it-may-relax-gun-laws

BBC. “Brazil gun killings rise to highest level in 35 years.” BBC News, 14 May 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-32747175

Crime Research. “Will Brazil, long having some of the strictest gun control in the world and one of the highest murder rates, finally liberalize its gun laws?” Crimeresearch.org, 2 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://crimeresearch.org/2015/11/will-brazil-long-having-some-of-the-strictest-gun-control-in-the-world-and-one-of-the-highest-murder-rates-finally-liberalize-its-gun-laws/

Glickhouse, Rachel. “Brazil Update: Congress to Consider Bill Loosening Gun Control.” As-coa.org, 24 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.as-coa.org/articles/brazil-update-congress-consider-bill-loosening-gun-control

Nehama, Nicolas, and Jose Luiz Brufatto De Oliveria. “What the U.S. can learn from Brazil’s epidemic of gun violence.” Latitude News, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.latitudenews.com/story/what-the-u-s-obama-can-learn-from-brazils-epidemic-of-gun-violence-newtown/

Sandy, Matt. “Brazil Seeks to Copy U.S. Gun Culture.” TIME, 12 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://time.com/4108421/brazil-u-s-gun-culture/

Tavener, Ben. “Despite Firearm Restrictions, Gun Violence Kills Five People Every Hour in Brazil.” Vice, 16 May 2015. Retrieved from: https://news.vice.com/article/despite-firearm-restrictions-gun-violence-kills-five-people-every-hour-in-brazil