Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are easing under President Bolsonaro:

A visitor holds a weapon during the Shot Fair Brasil, a weapons exhibition held at the Expoville Convention and Exhibition Center in Joinville, Santa Catarina state, Brazil, on August 5 .

Albari Sosa/- via Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Albari Sosa/- via Getty Images

Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are

A visitor holds a weapon during the Shot Fair Brasil, a weapons exhibition held at the Expoville Convention and Exhibition Center in Joinville, Santa Catarina state, Brazil, on August 5 .

Albari Sosa/- via Getty Images

RIO BONITO, Brazil — At a shooting range, a man applying for a firearms license points a pistol and fires 10 rounds at a human-shaped target 20 feet away. Almost all of the bullets hit the sweet spot of the target in the middle of the torso.

The shooter, Wagner Carneiro, is a former sergeant in the Brazilian army. He explains that a man in a car asking for directions suddenly pointed a gun to his head and demanded his cell phone. Now Carneiro, 40, wants a gun for himself.

1660449097 14 Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are

Wagner Carneiro at the shooting range in Rio Bonito, Brazil on July 16.

John Otis/-

hide caption

toggle caption

John Otis/-

1660449100 944 Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are

Wagner Carneiro at the shooting range in Rio Bonito, Brazil on July 16.

John Otis/-

“I need it to protect my family,” he says, speaking from the beach in the city of Rio Bonito, about 40 miles west of Rio de Janeiro.

Thanks to President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist whose hero is former President Donald Trump, it has become much easier for Brazilians like Carneiro to get guns. Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has issued more than a dozen executive orders easing restrictions on civilian gun ownership.

Bolsonaro, who faces an uphill battle for re-election in October, has avidly courted Brazil’s gun lobby and often poses for photos while making a gun sign with his thumb and index finger.

“Expanding the people’s right to bear arms has been one of Bolsonaro’s main election promises from day one,” says Fábio Zanini, columnist for Folha de S. Paulo, a major Brazilian newspaper. “Gun owners are one of his main electoral bases.”

There are even more gun regulations in Brazil than in the United States, including mandatory psychological and gun safety exams. But now, individuals can purchase more powerful handguns and ammunition in greater quantities. Collectors and competitive shooters can purchase automatic rifles.

Since 2018, the number of guns owned by individuals has doubled to nearly 2 million, according to data from the Brazilian military and police analyzed by Brazilian security think tank Sou da Paz.

Gun shops and shooting tournaments are popping up all over Brazil. They include the enormous Schützenfest, held in southern Brazil where many people are of German descent, and is a combination of Oktoberfest washed down with beer and shotguns. On average, one new shooting range per day was opened during Bolsonaro’s nearly four-year tenure, Brazil’s UOL website reported.

Some Brazilian gun enthusiasts imitate their American counterparts in talking about their “Second Amendment” rights, even though there is no constitutional right to bear arms here. Others, like Rodrigo Santoro, who is training to become a weapons instructor at the Rio Bonito shooting range, don’t trust the police to protect them from well-armed criminals.

“The main principle is to defend yourself, your family, your home,” he says. “We stand for guns in the hands of the right people because the bad guys already have guns.”

After President Bolsonaro, Brazil’s most prominent gun advocate, comes his son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro. In July, he celebrated his 38th birthday with a cake decorated with a revolver. He says looser gun regulations have helped lower Brazil’s homicide rate.

“It was the biggest drop in murders…since 1980,” he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in June. “So Brazil is safer, thank God, thanks to this policy.”

But the country’s homicide rate was falling even before Bolsonaro took office, said Bruno Langeani, the director of Sou da Paz. And despite this trend, the murder rate here of more than 22 murders per 100,000 population was still more than three times higher than in the United States in 2020, according to World Bank figures.

Cecília Olliveira, who runs Fogo Cruzado, a project that maps gun violence in Brazilian cities, says that instead of promoting gun ownership for self-protection, authorities should focus on police reform.

“When you [say]“I have to protect myself because the police aren’t working”, it’s not good”, she says. “The point is, we have to make sure the police do the right thing.”

Mass shootings perpetrated by civilians in Brazil are rare. But the increase in gun ownership has led to more suicides and gun accidents involving children, says Langeani of think tank Sou da Paz. Additionally, he says drug trafficking groups recruit civilians to legally buy automatic rifles, which are then passed on to criminals.

“We are seeing more and more episodes of what in the United States you would call buying a ‘straw buyer’ – the diversion of guns to crime,” he says.

1660449100 176 Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are

A Brazilian citizen shows his ID card to a federal police officer (left) as he trades in two collectible guns as part of a nationwide gun buy-back program, in São Paulo, Brazil , July 23, 2004.

Mauricio Lima/- via Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Mauricio Lima/- via Getty Images

1660449101 802 Gun ownership in Brazil is skyrocketing and gun laws are

A Brazilian citizen shows his ID card to a federal police officer (left) as he trades in two collectible guns as part of a nationwide gun buy-back program, in São Paulo, Brazil , July 23, 2004.

Mauricio Lima/- via Getty Images

Ahead of the October elections, polls show President Bolsonaro trailing left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He is a former president who tightened Brazilian gun laws when he took office in 2003. This legislation prevented ordinary citizens from buying guns while a buy-back program led to the return of more than 700,000 firearms. Immediately after, the homicide rate in Brazil fell, although it started to rise again in 2007.

So the prospect that Lula, as the former president is widely known, could return to power has some Brazilians rushing to apply for firearms permits, says Alexandre Coelho, an instructor at the Rio Bonito shooting range and ardent Bolsonaro supporter.

“Left governments don’t believe in the right to self-defense. They believe that the state must defend you and always will [there] to defend yourself. It’s a lie,” he said. “Right-wing governments believe in the right to self-defense.

Among his clients is Carneiro, the man who was robbed at gunpoint for his cell phone and is now completing his shooting test. As he examines the bullet holes in the target, Coelho is impressed.

“A total of 95 points” out of a possible 100, he says. “It is approved.”

Leave a Comment