Gun Control and Rising Crime in Brazil

By Fernando de Castro
Fernando de Castro
Fernando de Castro
September 14, 2019 Updated: September 18, 2019

News Analysis

RECIFE, Brazil—Touted as the solution to the problem of violence, gun control was one of the main anti-crime programs instituted in Brazil by previous governments.

In 2003, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party signed legislation known as the “Disarmament Statute,” which was designed to have civilians surrender their guns to the state.

One part of the gun control law depended on popular approval. In 2005, the government held a referendum asking whether trade in firearms and ammunition should be banned, and about 64 percent of voters rejected the proposal.

But the government didn’t respect the majority’s decision and maintained strict rules for the sales of weapons, which resulted in the failure of several gun retailers, as well as an increase in firearm crimes.

According to the Ministry of Health, about 36,000 homicides occurred in 2003 involving the use of firearms. By 2017, 14 years after the enactment of the Disarmament Statute, the number of gun-related homicides jumped to 47,000.

The rate of violent crime has reached increasingly alarming numbers, leading to the public demanding the end of the statute in favor of the right to carry guns.

Guns and Crime

According to public security expert Bene Barbosa, author of the book, “Lied to Me About Disarmament,” gun control only favors people who don’t follow the law.

“When a citizen decides to surrender his weapon, he is strengthening the monopoly of state force. This is the antithesis of freedom, quite the opposite of what is written in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for example,” he said.

The restriction of weapons and ineffective laws to punish criminals are the main causes of the increase in crime, Barbosa says.

“Brazil decided to adopt a policy of preventing civilians from having guns, [and] crime is rising sharply across the country, as criminals have found that people have no means of defending their lives,” Barbosa said.

On the effects of the 2003 gun control law, the government’s main objective at the time was to prevent the population from gaining access to weapons by preventing trade, said public security researcher Fabrício Rebelo.

“However, the people rejected the ban on sales through the 2005 referendum, and despite the population’s position, the PT [Workers’ Party] government sought other ways to impede the rules for purchasing firearms,” he said. “This is where the popular decision was not respected.”

Echoing Barbosa, Rebelo said that when the state decides to prevent citizens from possessing weapons, the criminals feel invited to commit crimes, because only law-abiding citizens follow the rules. Criminals, by definition, don’t follow laws.

“For Americans, the use of a weapon is associated with the exercise of freedom. And in this context, the perpetrators of crimes are individuals accustomed to criminal practice, so when they [the government] remove the possibility of citizens exercising their right to self-defense at the necessary times, the example we have is a promotion of criminal practice,” Rebelo said.

The easing of rules for civilians to carry weapons was one of the main points of current President Jair Bolsonaro’s 2018 campaign.

“The state cannot prevent a natural right of the individual, which is self-defense. It is not for the government to say that a citizen should use guns or not. Rulers who do this become a tyrant,” said lawyer and police chief Rafael Vitola Brodbeck, who is one of the defenders of civil armament and against the prohibition imposed by the state.

While Bolsonaro in May signed a decree relaxing rules for civilians to own and carry firearms, the federal Senate overturned the measure a few weeks later. Bolsonaro revoked the decree and has sent a new bill to Congress.

Fernando de Castro
Fernando de Castro