Violent Crime in Brazil is About to Drop Precipitously

Jan. 2, 2019
by Bob Adelmann

Brazil has the highest rate of violent crime in Latin America and the eighth highest in the world. In Sao Paulo, a city of 12 million people, one in four reports that they have been held up at gunpoint at least once.

Along with this frightening crime wave, a weak economy (unemployment is at 12 percent) helped Jair Bolsonaro win election in October with 55 percent of the vote. Three days before his inauguration, he announced that his first effort would be to keep one of his key campaign promises: to expand his country’s gun laws. He tweeted: “By decree, we plan to guarantee the ownership of firearms by citizens without criminal records.”

That’s a far cry from the law presently in force (since 2003), which pushed the crime rate in Brazil to record highs. At present, the gun law requires the payment of heavy fees not only for a gun license but for the registration of the firearm, followed by proof of residence and employment as well as technical and psychological capacity to handle the firearm. In practice, local police rarely granted a permit, in effect keeping law-abiding citizens defenseless while allowing criminals to run amok.

Furthermore, if by chance a citizen was able to obtain a firearm on the black market and he were caught with it, he would spend the next four years in jail, just for its possession.

Bolsonaro sounds like a cross between Trump and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. In October he said, “Weapons are tools, inert objects, that can be used to kill or to save lives. This depends on who’s holding them: good people or bad guys…. Why have I always defended the ownership of firearms? It’s so that you, upstanding citizens … can have a weapon inside your house or your farm. If some guy breaks down the door to your house, knocks down the gate to your farm, you have the right to react.”

It didn’t hurt that in other ways he also sounded like the U.S. president. He supported his country’s national sovereignty and opposed abortion, affirmative action, and drug liberalization while supporting closer relations with the United States and Israel. But his signature promise – supported by his famous finger-gun salute – was to liberalize his country’s gun laws.


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Bolsonaro’s decree is not a law, at least not yet. The bicameral legislature (where he served for 27 years) must pass it first. But indications are that, when it becomes law, it could look like this: 

Removal of the present ability of police to arbitrarily deny a permit to own a gun;

Reduction of the minimum age for gun ownership from 25 to 21; and

Brazilian gun owners will have the right to carry guns for self-defense.

Unfortunately, Brazilian citizens have no Second Amendment, so what the government giveth it is free to taketh away. Without that amendment, Bolsonaro’s decree would grant the government the power to extend the privilege of self-defense to its citizenry rather than protecting their pre-existing right to that self-defense as the U.S. Constitution does for American citizens. So, in his decree, Brazil’s new president would “allow” ordinary gun owners to own up to six guns along with their “privilege” to purchase up to one hundred rounds of ammunition per year, per gun.

Nevertheless, crime should drop, and could drop precipitously, upon enactment of Bolsonaro’s decree. John Lott proved that in his book More Guns, Less Crime.

And so did Dean Weingarten’s reminder published in Ammoland:

In 1980, Brazil had a homicide rate of about 12 per 100,000 people, only a little higher than the United States with a homicide rate of 10.2 in the same year.  In 2017, 37 years later, the United States homicide rate dropped in half to 5.2, while Brazil’s rate more than tripled to over 39.

In its reporting of the president’s decree, Samantha Pearson of the Wall Street Journal said that “Brazil is set to embark on an experiment (emphasis added) that will determine what happens when you loosen restrictions in a country battling an overpowering wave of gun crime.”

This is no experiment. When criminals no longer can distinguish between citizens who are armed and those who are not – when the question facing them becomes existential rather than merely potentially profitable – crime will drop in Brazil. As has been proven over time, an armed citizenry is the best deterrent against violent crime. 

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Sources:

The Wall Street Journal: Brazil Has an Idea to Fix Rampant Gun Violence: More Guns

Reuters: Brazil’s president-elect plans decree allowing wider gun ownership

ABC News: Brazil’s president-elect vows to loosen gun laws

BBC.com: Brazil gun laws: Bolsonaro vows to loosen ownership rules

Gun laws in Brazil

Ammoland.com: Brazil on Cusp of Reforming Restrictive Gun Laws

Background on Bolsonaro

Presidency of Jair Bolsonaro

Amazon: More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

History of Brazil

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