Who are Brazil’s private security guards who outnumber the police?
“MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Brazil’s gun ownership boom and why it’s making a lot of people nervous
Soon after Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in 2018, he began making it a lot easier for people in the country to buy guns.
The WorldDecember 28, 2022 · 3:30 PM EST
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends the Naval Guard Declaration graduation ceremony, at the Naval School in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec. 10, 2022. Bolsonaro presided over the formal graduation just weeks before his government is due to relinquish power to the incoming government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Jan. 1.
Soon after Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in 2018, he began making it a lot easier for people in the country to buy guns. For an episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, two experts talked about Brazil’s boom in private gun ownership.
Brazil has the highest number of gun deaths in the world. “We have a very entrenched culture of violence,” explained Juliano Cortinhas, an expert in defence and security at the University of Brasilia. And yet Cortinhas said, in Brazil “you don’t see guns, you don’t live with them if you are not in specific environments like the favelas.”
For the past few decades, Brazil has had quite restrictive gun laws. In 2003, soon after the election of the socialist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil passed a Disarmament Statute, which made it harder for people to buy guns. But after he was elected president in 2018, the far-right Bolsonaro has relaxed gun regulations, including making it easier for civilians to obtain hunting, shooting and collectors licences, known as CACs.
According to the nongovernmental organization, Sou da Paz, the number of people registered with CAC licences stood at 673,000 in July 2022, up nearly 500% since Bolsonaro came to power in 2018. These CAC licence holders now own more than 1 million registered guns. Put together with other types of private gun licence for members of the military and civil servants, Sou da Paz estimate there were 2.7 million privately owned guns in Brazil in July 2022, up 106% since 2018.
The pro-gun agenda has been a big part of Bolsonaro’s political platform. Bolsonaro, who is now due to relinquish power to Lula's incoming government on Jan. 1, argues that it’s the duty of so-called “good citizens,” or cidadãos de bem, to arm themselves. And he’s said repeatedly that armed people can never be enslaved.
For Erika Robb Larkins, an anthropologist of violence in Brazil based at San Diego State University in the US, this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous.
“His supporters believe that they’re on the precipice of enslavement and that a gun is the only thing that stands between them and being in some kind of imagined communist jail,” she said.
Political violence is not new in Brazil, but there has been a spike in politically motivated attacks during this election cycle, including several murders. Researchers at the Federal University of the State of Rio De Janeiro counted 212 episodes of political violence between July and September 2022, up 70% on the same period ahead of municipal elections two years ago.
Cortinhas told The Conversation that “living in a society in which more guns are circulating scares me, and it scares everyone that studies security.” He said that the threats to Brazil’s democracy are higher “because of the radicalism of most of the people who are acquiring these weapons.”
Will you support The World?
The story you just read is accessible and free to all because thousands of listeners and readers contribute to our nonprofit newsroom. Our team has one shared goal: bringing The World to you. We go deep to bring you the human-centered international reporting that you know you can trust. To do this work and to do it well, we rely on a mix of grants and donations from our listeners.
If you appreciated our coverage this year, will you make a year-end gift to help sustain our work in 2023?
Count me in!