Brazil to rein in gun ownership after Bolsonaro-era expansion

Former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro loosened restrictions on gun purchases and encouraged firearm ownership.

Machine guns hang on a wall
Machine guns hang on the wall of a shooting club in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in October 2022 [File: Matias Delacroix/AP Photo]

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has moved to restrict access to firearms, seeking to reverse a trend of proliferating gun ownership under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula signed a decree on Friday tightening access to guns, cutting the number of firearms a civilian can own from four to two. The new regulations also require documentation affirming the necessity of holding the weapon and decrease the amount of ammunition a person can have per gun.

“It’s one thing for the regular citizen to have a gun at home for his protection, as a guarantee, because some people think this is safety. Let them have it. But we cannot allow gun arsenals to be in the people’s hands,” the president said during a signing ceremony.

Gun ownership skyrocketed in Brazil during Bolsonaro’s tenure, during which restrictions were loosened and the purchase of firearms encouraged. Gun manufacturers also saw their influence grow, especially within the conservative political sphere.

razil's President Lula da Silva addresses the media prior to a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at EU headquarters in Brussels, July 17, 2023.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeated his right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in a run-off election in October 2022 [File: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo]

While higher rates of firearm ownership are linked to increased gun violence, the increase in Brazil over the last several years has not resulted in an uptick in the country’s rate of violent crime.

On Thursday, the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a crime-tracking organisation, released a report that found homicides had reached their lowest point in a decade.

The group found that 47,500 people were killed in violent crimes last year, the lowest rate since 2011 and down 2.4 percent from 2021.

A number of factors can contribute to decreasing crime trends, and criminologists are doubtful that increased rates of gun ownership account for the country’s declining homicide rate.

In addition, the percentage of homicides committed with a firearm remains higher in Brazil than in other countries. Firearm injuries accounted for 77 percent of Brazil’s homicides in 2022, compared with the 44-percent average worldwide. Gun ownership in the country nearly tripled from 2018 to 2022.

“Although homicides have not increased, the percentage of deaths by firearms in Brazil is still very high,” Carolina Ricardo, director of the Instituto Sou da Paz, a nonprofit group that monitors public security, told the Associated Press.

She credits public security policies and social programmes that help keep children in school with helping to keep homicide rates low.

Samira Bueno, who serves as executive director for the public safety forum, also pointed to a fragile truce among several of the country’s largest criminal gangs as a reason behind the homicide decline.

Brazil’s ageing population could also be factored in, the experts explained.

The Igarape Institute, another public security research group, applauded the new rules President Lula instituted on Friday. It called the measures “another step to regain responsible parameters and legal security in controlling guns in Brazil”.

Under the new restrictions, a civilian gun permit in Brazil is valid for three to five years, as opposed to 10 years under Bolsonaro.

Lula’s decree also closed a loophole that allowed gun owners to carry loaded weapons into public spaces if the person stated that they were going to a gun club.

“Let’s keep fighting for an unarmed country,” said Lula in a tweet on Friday. “It is the security forces who have to be armed, responsibly.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies