Brazil school massacre puts spotlight on gun violence, rising firearm sales
Brazil is considered the world's leader in deaths by firearms, fueling debate over gun laws following the Brazil school massacre Thursday that killed 12 students.
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The school shooting will likely intensify an ongoing gun debate in Brazil, says William Godnick, coordinator for the public security program at the United Nations Center for Peace Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean.Skip to next paragraph
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Gun laws among world's strictest
His doctoral research found that violence in Brazil grew steadily at the end of the last decade, with the firearm death rate growing threefold from 1982 to 2002, to 31 per 100,000 inhabitants. A growing social movement of activists and politicians pushed Brazil to pass a 2003 statute that ranks among the world’s strictest national firearms laws.
Today a gun owner must be older than 25 to legally possess arms and also must pass a series of tough background checks.
Still, anti-gun advocates sought to take restrictions even further by banning sales to civilians. Placed to voters in 2005, the referendum failed with 64 percent voting in favor of continued sales, in part because of the argument that guns were needed for personal safety.
Today firearms sales are flourishing. A recent report by the state news service Agência Brasil showed that the number of firearms sold in the country had grown 70 percent since the referendum, from 68,000 in 2005 to nearly 117,000 in 2009.
An estimated half of the 16 million guns in Brazil are thought to be unregistered, according to a December report by the Rio de Janeiro nongovernmental organization Viva Rio, which played a leading roll in tougher gun legislation, and the Justice Ministry. The report says that Brazil is the “world champion” in absolute numbers of deaths by firearms each year.
According to a 2010 analysis by Brazil’s National Confederation of Municipalities, more than 70 percent of Brazil’s murders in 2008 were committed with a firearm, reaching about 35,000.
One of world's most-violent nations
As the country mourns, pro-disarmament activists see this as a time to put the 2003 statute, which in theory is a strong gun law, into better practice.
“Like any law it is not enough to be written. It has to be implemented. … This case that happened exactly puts this question [on the agenda again],” says Melina Risso, director of the Sou de Paz institute in São Paulo. She notes that the statute in itself applied in vigor would reduce the number of arms on the street, since it requires re-registration of arms in case they go missing.
Considering at least 7 million weapons are already legally registered, she says. “It’s already a great arsenal for a country like ours that has a prohibition on a civilian walking armed.”
Brazil’s murder rate already puts it in the top 5 percent of the most violent countries in the world, notes Leandro Piquet Carneiro of the University of São Paulo in his 2010 study on illicit markets and public safety. With a 2010 homicide rate of about 27 per 100,000 residents, Brazil is three times the global average.
Without coming out in support of gun control, an editorial in the leading Rio de Janeiro daily O Globo said the event “calls attention” to the debate: “The country is weeping with sadness. But let’s hope that from the suffering there comes the lesson of seeing the crime in Realengo not as an isolated happening, but an alert for the public authorities to improve their instruments of prevention of any type of violence.”