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Bolsonaro’s gun sale increase decrees raise insecurity and issue may reach Supreme Court

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – President Jair Bolsonaro used Friday, the eve of a near-carnival in Brazil, to sign four decrees that further ease the sale of weapons and reduce inspection by the relevant bodies. It is the thirtieth normative act published in the past two years by Bolsonaro, as part of a policy that has contributed to an increase in the number of guns in circulation in Brazil.

Photo Internet Reproduction
Photo Internet Reproduction

The president’s twitter announcement prompted immediate reactions among human rights organizations and political leaders. “Bolsonaro’s arms populism, in addition to compounding the problem [of violence], is a smokescreen for his coup aspirations,” wrote Marcelo Freixo, a PSOL deputy in Rio. Freixo announced a bill to annul Bolsonaro’s latest decrees and lodged a direct claim on grounds of unconstituionality with the Supreme Court. “The president is not allowed to legislate on weapons by decree,” the deputy complained.

A survey by O Globo newspaper shows that gun ownership in civilian hands alone has shot up by 65% in the country since December 2018, just before Bolsonaro took office on January 1st. By the end of January there were over 1.1 million weapons in citizens’ hands, a number that should easily rise unless the president’s decrees are overturned in the courts, as public safety experts expect. Among the norms established by the government is the increased limit on gun purchases by citizens, which will rise from 4 to 6 weapons. The figure may be as high as 8 for members of the judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office, police and prison guards.

Other measures include a reduction in gun and ammunition control and tracking, a risk that places weapons closer to organized crime. There are provisions for sport shooters and hunters to be allowed to buy between 30 and 60 weapons, with no requirement for the Army’s authorization. Projectiles and machines for reloading ammunition and magazines are also no longer controlled by the Army. Easier access to more restricted weapons, which interest militias.

“The increase in the sale of higher-potential weapons in circulation inevitably ends up supplying crime,” says Carolina Ricardo, director of the Sou da Paz Institute. “A gun from a sport shooter or hunter’s collection can be stolen or diverted and supply the illegal market,” she warns, pointing out that a lack of tracking hinders the investigation of crimes. Last year, an Army ordinance revoked rules on tracking weapons and ammunition, security devices and marking of firearms and ammunition in Brazil.

The Bolsonaro administration’s overt gun liberation policy has created insecurity in society, particularly after the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th. To this day, the far-right president has not condemned the raid by Trump voters who refused to accept the election result. In addition, Bolsonaro does not waste an opportunity to reinforce his discourse of distrust of electronic ballot boxes – with no evidence to support it – and to say that he wants to see the population armed, anticipating a crisis he may unleash next year should he not be reelected in the presidential race.

In a statement, the Igarapé Institute, a think tank that studies public safety, said that the package of decrees “not only has lethal effects for the country that kills the most people with firearms in the world, but also intensifies potential threats to democracy and collective safety.” According to Michele dos Ramos, Igarapé’s special advisor, “there are many questions to be answered by federal authorities on the political motivations for the lack of gun control in the country, since there is no justification or technical information to support these dangerous changes.

After releasing the technical note, Ilona Szabó, co-founder and president of the Igarapé Institute, was blocked by the president on Twitter. “It is impressive to see how efficient the hate machine is and how well equipped it is to block any challenge to the official narrative. This only occurs in dictatorships. We already live exceptional times,” she said.

Chamber vice-president Marcelo Ramos (PL-AM), an ally of Bolsonaro, criticized the new measures. “More serious than the content of the decrees related to weapons issued by the president is the fact that he is exceeding his regulatory power and interfering in an exclusive jurisdiction of the Legislative. The president may discuss his claim, but by referring a bill to the Chamber,” he wrote on Twitter.

Bolsonaro ignored the criticism and ironized that “the people are vibrating” with the new measures. He published a video in which he comments on the decrees with a small group of people in the south of the country. Federal deputy Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), former Chamber president, reacted by stating”Bolsonaro considers the part by the whole. He thinks his extreme world represents the country. The people are not vibrating. The people don’t want guns. The people are yearning for vaccines.”

The public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic seems to have produced a propitious scenario for dismantling the anti-gun public policy, an electoral pledge that Bolsonaro has been striving to fulfill with his pro-gun decree policy, which has already managed to disfigure the Statute of Disarmament, a set of laws aimed at gun control and responsible for saving over 160,000 lives, according to studies.

The government has even eliminated gun import taxes, arguing that this would boost trade. The case ended up in the Supreme Court, after a motion by the PSB, and justice Edson Fachin suspended the decision. He considered that, although the president of the Republic has the prerogative to grant tax exemptions, encouraging the purchase of weapons through tax incentives clashes with the right to life and safety, which are constitutionally guaranteed.

Bolsonaro’s arms policy runs counter to Joe Biden’s public policy in the United States. On Sunday, February 14th, the US president called on Congress to take “immediate” action to limit the circulation of firearms in a statement marking three years since the attack on the Parkland high school in Florida, where 14 students and 3 teachers died. “This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to hear calls for action,” Biden said in the statement.

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