Bolsonaro Signs Decree Making It Easier for Brazilians to Buy Guns
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil signed a decree on Tuesday making it easier to buy guns and signaling he will follow through on his campaign promise to tackle the country’s epidemic of violence by arming the “good guys” and crushing violent drug gangs.
Mr. Bolsonaro was sworn in on Jan. 1 after a decisive electoral victory last year that was bolstered by his vows to combat crime with an iron fist and reduce Brazil’s record-high murder rate. Simulating guns with his fingers at campaign rallies, he pledged to make it easier for the police to shoot suspects and to relax the country’s restrictive firearms law.
Two weeks into his term, he took what he called a “first step” to those ends, to be followed by further congressional measures.
“I signed this decree, created by many upstanding people, so that at this first moment, upstanding citizens can have peace inside their homes,” Mr. Bolsonaro said at a signing ceremony in the capital, Brasília.
The presidential decree eliminates the requirement that applicants formally declare why they need a gun and have that argument approved by the police — a provision that is widely considered the most bureaucratic aspect of the country’s firearms regulations.
Mr. Bolsonaro said the new rules remove the “discretionary” role played by the police, replacing it with a list of specific conditions that justify the “necessity” to own a gun. Those conditions include being responsible for a commercial or industrial establishment, being a gun collector or hunter, living in a rural area or living in a city with elevated crime rates — as the vast majority of Brazilians do.
The decree also extends the registration renewal period to 10 years from five.
Many other aspects of Brazil’s 2003 gun control law, the Disarmament Statute, remain unaltered. Applicants for gun ownership must be at least 25 years old, have no criminal history, provide proof of a steady job and fixed residence, pass a psychological test and have gun training. And it is still illegal to carry guns outside of homes and places of work.
“He is fulfilling a campaign pledge which is in line with his 27 years in Congress,” said Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute, which focuses on security issues. “You can be sure we’ll see additional measures in the coming year.”
A former army captain, Mr. Bolsonaro was for many years a marginal, far-right voice in Brazil’s Congress, best known for his verbal attacks against women, gay people and black people before persuading voters in the 2018 presidential election that he was the best candidate to take on entrenched political corruption and soaring violence.
In 2017, Brazil set a new murder record of 30.8 per 100,000 people, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, a research organization. In comparison, the United States had 5.3 homicides per 100,000 people in 2017 — the most recent year for which data are available — and Mexico had a murder rate of 25 per 100,000 people in 2017.
The euphoria surrounding Mr. Bolsonaro’s rise in the polls prompted many Brazilians to sign up for gun training even before he won the election in October, and fueled a spike in the share price of the Brazilian gun manufacturer Taurus.
Though Tuesday’s announcement will delight many of Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters, and despite anger over the widespread violence, most Brazilians still favor strict regulation of guns. According to a poll conducted last month, 61 percent think civilian gun ownership should be banned.
A powerful group of lawmakers in Congress, sometimes called the “bullet lobby,” has vowed to further relax regulations and tackle restrictions on carrying guns. But research groups have argued that greater access to guns has historically fueled violence.
“Instead of doubling down on dismantling firearm legislation, we would be better off enforcing the existing rules,” said Mr. Muggah. “By extending the registration period, you are expanding the likelihood of guns finding their way to the streets.”