Disarmament Statute faces repeal after 12 years

Brazil's existing gun control policy may be overridden by the much

Published in 12/12/2015 - 09:06 By Luana Lourenço reports from Agência Brasil - Brasília

Brasília - Comissão especial aprova texto-base do substitutivo proposto pelo deputado Laudivio Carvalho que revoga o Estatuto do Desarmamento (Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

Protesters demonstrate at the special committee meeting that approved the new, looser gun control bill. Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

After twelve years of its introduction, the Brazilian law that tightened the restrictions for owning and carrying firearms in the country is about to be changed by Congress. Since 2003, the Disarmament Statute (Law No. 10,826) has faced repeal threats that may now be carried out with the passing of an amendment bill proposed in 2012 that is ready to be brought to a floor vote at the Chamber of Deputies.

Amid controversy and public quarrels in Congress, the changes to the regulation were approved by a special committee of the Chamber of Deputies in early November and reported back to the full chamber. If approved by a majority of deputies, the proposal will then be submitted to a vote in the Senate, where the debate is expected to be more poised.

The new bill, called the Statute on Arms Control, entitles any citizen who meets certain requirements outlined in the draft to buy and carry firearms, including people facing charges of homicide or drug trafficking. It also lowers the minimum eligibility age for buying a gun from 25 to 21 years old, and entitles deputies and senators to carry firearms.

The clashes over the amendments reach beyond the halls of Congress and pitch civil society organizations and public security experts against each other. The issue has also been a topic of debate on social media.

Facts and figures

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According to the 2015 Violence Map, out of the total guns in Brazil, 6.8 million are registered and 8.5 million are illegal, with at least 3.8 million in the hands of criminals.  Marcello Casal Jr. / Arquivo Agência Brasil

More than 880,000 people were killed by firearms in Brazil (whether by homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting) in 1980-2012, according to the 2015 Violence Map. The latest survey found that 42,416 people were killed by gun shooting in the country, which averages out at 116 killings every day.

In 2004, the year after the Disarmament Statute was signed into law, the number of homicides by firearms dropped after over a decade rising steadily—going from 39,325 deaths in 2003 to 37,113 in 2004.

With 15 million guns (8 for every 100,000 people), Brazil ranks 75th among 184 countries by number of weapons held by civilians. In the survey, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Small Arms Survey—an international body that monitors trading in arms and armed conflicts worldwide—the United States was ranked first with 270 million weapons in a population of 318 million people (more than 85 guns for every 100,000 population group).

According to the 2015 Violence Map, out of the total guns in Brazil, 6.8 million are registered and 8.5 million are illegal, with at least 3.8 million in the hands of criminals.

According to the Ministry of Justice, between 2004 and July this year, 671,887 firearms were voluntarily surrendered as part of a campaign called “Drop off your weapon” (“Entregue sua arma”), in accordance with the Disarmament Statute.

Why keep the Disarmament Statute unchanged?

Advocacy for the Disarmament Statute has pitted unlikely allies on the same side, including Deputy Jean Wyllys and Pastor Silas Malafaia, as well as the likes of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso; the Public Security Secretary of Rio de Janeiro, José Mariano Beltrame; former Senator Marina Silva; and the President of the Senate, Renan Calheiros.

“The issue of firearms ownership is not about conservatives versus progressives. Flooding society with weapons is a security issue. And security is neither right-wing nor left-wing; rather, it's an issue that impacts people's lives, regardless of their political views,” said Ivan Marques, Executive Director for Instituto Sou da Paz.

For advocates of the current gun policy, changing the Disarmament Statute would be a setback and a threat to the progress seen in the country in the 12 years of its implementation, such as the 160,000 deaths that were averted in the period, as estimated by the 2015 Violence Map.

“We'd be going back to the same point we were at before 2003, when people could carry weapons simply because they could easily obtain a permit from a police chief. The [disarmament] statute is founded on the premise that gun possession should be an exception, but the new bill is set to make this exception the norm, and this will be disastrous for public security with the society being flooded with guns,” Marques went on.

Ivan Contente Marques

Ivan  Marques,Executive Director for Instituto Sou da Paz.Aruivo/Instituto Sou da Paz

The ammunition used by advocates in pressing their case for the disarmament statute is a myriad surveys and studies that show the effectiveness of severe gun control laws and warn against the danger of increasing firearm availability. In the 2015 Violence Map, for example, researcher-sociologist Júlio Jacobo Waiselfisz found that 160,036 lives have been saved thanks to the tougher gun controls introduced by the statute.

Another study, the Map of Firearms in Brazilian Micro-regions conducted by Daniel Cerqueira, a researcher at the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), found that a 1% increase in the number of circulating firearms could increase the homicide rate by up to 2%. United Nations data indicates that while firearms are associated with 40% of global homicides, in Brazil, 71% of homicides are caused by gun shootings.

To counter the threats to the Disarmament Statute, 230 members of Congress formed a Parliament Caucus for Gun Control, Life and Peace, chaired by Deputy Raul Jungmann. The group hopes to weigh in on the floor debate about the policy change to counteract the influence of the so-called “bullet caucus”.

“Anyone who advocates gun possession for themselves is failing to realize that eventually all people will be armed. For example, the youth in city outskirts that feel as social outcasts and have endured enormous deprivation and suffering will all be armed; on football pitches, at parties, in traffic, out on the streets, people will all be carrying guns. People tend to think about guns as if they were meant for defense only, when they're actually used for destruction and conflict,” Jungmann argued.

Why repeal the Disarmament Statute?

The right to self-defense as the government fails to ensure public security is one of the main motives of those who want to repeal the Disarmament Statute. Overt supporters of the relaxation of arms control policy are led by the bullet caucus in Congress and include civil society bodies created after the introduction of the statute—regarded as one of the toughest among its counterparts in other countries.

“The right to self-defense has nothing to do with taking the law into your own hands—it's part of the right to buy weapons, but there's much more to it. Giving citizens the means to defend themselves does not diminish the authority of law enforcement agencies and the State to protect the population. Common citizens carrying weapons cannot serve search and seizure warrants, chase criminals, carry out investigations, or carry out any of the police tasks,” said the chairman of Instituto Defesa, Lucas Silveira. Founded in 2011, the organization has 130,000 members and lobbies for broader gun possession rights in Congress and on social media.

According to the chairman of the Movimento Viva Brasil, Bene Barbosa, given the shortcomings of police forces that prevent them from completely curbing violence and the failure of the law enforcement system, the Disarmament Statute took away the “last chance” for citizens to defend themselves by restricting access to weapons.

Alberto Fraga

Deputy Alberto Fraga, a retired Military Police colonel who is one of the main leaders of the bullet caucus  Lucio Bernardo Jr./Câmara dos Deputados

“When the statute was introduced in 2003, we had already warned that it would not effectively reduce homicide and violent crime at large; indeed, it could have the opposite effect, because it would create a sense of confidence in criminals. Criminals mistook the statute and the campaigns to voluntarily turn in firearms for a surrender,” he explained.

Supporters of the Arms Control Statute bill maintain that their proposal is still quite restrictive when it comes to gun control in Brazil.

“It's not fair to say that we'll have a law that will allow everybody to have weapons, that people will be able to buy a gun from the nearest newsstand and ammunition from a baker's shop—it's simply not true. The purpose [of the new regulations] is to make gun policy more contemporary and listen to the needs of society,” Bene Barbosa went on.

Deputy Alberto Fraga, a retired Military Police colonel who is one of the main leaders of the bullet caucus, says that by reducing red tape and subjective discretion in granting weapon permits, the regulatory change will also feed the state more information on the number of weapons in the country.

For gun supporters, the lobby for disarmament “spreads panic” by associating growth in crime rates with the number of weapons in the country. They instance Switzerland and the United States, where the crime rate is much lower than in Brazil despite the larger number of weapons in the hands of civilians.

They also dispute the 2015 Violence Map projections on killings averted by the Disarmament Statute. “I'd like to meet this fortune teller or psychic who said that the statute prevented these deaths—it's complete nonsense. Besides, there's an obvious point: among these deaths they're mentioning are the deaths of mostly criminals. Criminals who kill law-abiding citizens. The cases of good citizens killed are insignificant compared to that,” said Deputy Alberto Fraga.


Translated by Mayra Borges


Fonte: Disarmament Statute faces repeal after 12 years

Edition: Lílian Beraldo / Olga Bardawil

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