Guns and Brazil: Bolsonaro seeks a simple solution to a complex problem

On Jan. 15, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro publicly signed a temporary decree essentially making it easier for civilians to purchase and own firearms. His actions were an attempt to fulfill one of his major campaign promises to reduce the incredibly high amount of violent crimes occurring within the country. In theory, this would serve to provide people a sense of safety as well as allow them their own means of protection. However, this one-dimensional approach fails to address the base of Brazil’s ongoing issue with violence by addressing the prominence of organized crime and police brutality.

Currently, Brazil has fairly strict gun control laws. Dictum aside, anyone who wants legal access to a gun faces many stipulations and regulatory measures. One is required to be at least 25 years of age with no criminal record, earn a passing mark on a psychological suitability and gun handling exam and have proof of a legitimate reason for possession of a firearm. Additionally, the person in question must pay a fee and renew their registration every five years. Despite all these regulatory measures, the amount of illegal firearms within the country is at least equivalent to those obtained through the legal process. With the implementation of this new decree, however, certain regulations face some serious alteration. The range of valid reasons for owning a gun has been purposefully expanded with this order, rendering the previous requirement of law enforcement approval obsolete. There was also an extension placed upon the renewal period and the number of guns one may have in their proprietorship. Simply put, this is Bolsonaro taking the first tangible step toward dismantling the tight gun control laws that currently govern Brazil.

While an honest effort to make good on his promise to reduce crime, this is a strangely digressive way to go about it, considering the crux of the problem at hand. Brazil is infamous for its violent crime rates; within the year 2017, there were over 60,000 murders committed, about 45,000 of which included firearms, with the national homicide rate sitting at a high of 30.8 murders per 100,000 people. The entire cause of this trouble is somewhat convoluted, but there are a few major reasons to be aware of.

First, one of the biggest contributors is the flourishing drug trade, and by extension, organized crime. This country is a major transit area, bordering Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, as well as being the world’s second largest consumer of cocaine, making the drug trade an extremely lucrative business for those involved. Because of this, many of the poorer communities of Brazil suffer from territorial gang wars. Indeed, Ceará and Acre, two poverty stricken states nestled along Brazil’s border, boast some of the highest homicide rates in the country.

Another point to consider is the general failure of Brazil’s law enforcement. Amidst a deep, two-year long recession, barely ending in the middle of 2017, public security funds were cut and law enforcement authorities were left underpaid and lacking the appropriate resources to continue their duties. Subsequently, there was a rise in police corruption; unsurprisingly, officers sought some way to make ends meet, whether by accepting bribes, assaulting certain people with impunity or becoming involved with illegal smuggling operations. As a result, the police are not trusted by civilians. To further complicate matters, due to the consequential fear and lack of opportunity, impoverished young people will often drop out of school and become caught up in the dangerous and illegal happenings in their neighborhoods. At the youthful age of 15, a large amount of young people, namely boys, give up on their education in favor of what they find to be more effective ways of surviving. Understandably, they feel that there is no opportunity for themselves elsewhere, and the lure of “easy” profits made from diving into smuggling is difficult to resist.

This amalgamation of violence, crime and poverty is clearly a complex, multifaceted problem for Brazil. Thus, the fact that Bolsonaro thinks that the gradual eradication of gun control will have any sort of large, positive effect on calming the culture of violence running through the underbelly of this country is laughable. In spite of anything he might claim, a Datafolha poll has shown that a majority of the Brazilian people are against civilian gun ownership, as they are rightfully afraid that introducing even more firearms into the mix will result in more violence. Too many security experts have spoken against similar policies, citing that widespread ownership of guns and firearms have a tendency to increase homicide and suicide rates. While some might feel more secure in their ability to protect their home, what good is it when they are living in an armed gang-dominated favela? What good is it when the corrupt police forces in their area possess just as many, if not more, firearms?

President Bolsonaro has proposed a ludicrously simple solution to a greatly nuanced problem. He ignores the deep roots of the issues embedded within the fabric of this country – organized crime, police brutality and extreme poverty. Instead, he has chosen to fixate on a smaller detail of the much larger picture that constitutes the epidemic of violence in Brazil, brazenly allowing this normative culture of violence to continue on without a comprehensive and well thought-out solution.

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