Brazil's President Bolsonaro Just Made It A Lot Easier For Brazilians To Have Guns

Jan 15, 2019
Originally published on January 15, 2019 7:25 pm
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Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a retired Army captain from the far-right. He's been in office for about two weeks and just took what may be his biggest step so far. He's made it a lot easier for Brazilians to have guns. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Mito, mito, mito, mito, mito...

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: When he was campaigning to be president in front of crowds, Bolsonaro had a signature gesture. He'd hold his hand aloft and make his fingers into the shape of a pistol. That's how he symbolized his campaign promise to give Brazilians far greater access to guns. Brazil leads the world in the total number of homicides. That promise did a lot to help get Bolsonaro elected.

Today, Bolsonaro took a step towards keeping it. Brazilian law already allows people over 25 to possess firearms under certain conditions. One was that they had to prove why they needed a gun. That sounds easy. In practice, the police frequently turned them down.

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JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Today in a televised ceremony, Bolsonaro signed a decree that changes that by removing the need to prove necessity. It only applies to guns at home.

AXL SATIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Axl Satier co-owns a gun shop in Niteroi, a high-crime city bordering Rio de Janeiro. Satier would like Bolsonaro to go further. He also wants to be allowed to carry.

SATIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: But he thinks it's good this decree tackles the red tape blocking gun ownership. His clients are increasing, as is the number of Brazilians interested in gun clubs, says Alexandre Coelho, who's an instructor in one.

ALEXANDRE COELHO: It's growing and growing and still growing.

REEVES: For many Brazilians, this is about self-defense, says Coelho.

COELHO: It gives me a chance to fight. I think the criminals will think twice to enter your home, to break in your home and harm you and your family.

ROBERT MUGGAH: The evidence is - is that having a gun in the home actually increases by a significant statistical percentage the likelihood of you or your spouse or your child being a victim of gun violence.

REEVES: Robert Muggah is co-founder of the Igarape Institute, a Brazil-based think tank specializing in security issues. Today's decree by Bolsonaro is just the beginning. Muggah says more measures are planned. Brazil's pro-gun lobby and its Congress, which supports Bolsonaro, is working on a bill that will enable many more Brazilians to carry guns.

MUGGAH: Which means that we'll see taxi drivers, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, all manner of citizens walking around with guns, concealed weapons. And this is extraordinarily dangerous in a country that obviously has a serious problem with gun violence.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.