Brazil’s gun ownership boom and why it’s making a lot of people nervous – podcast

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. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we speak to two experts about Brazil’s boom in private gun ownership and why it’s exacerbating fears about political violence ahead of Brazil’s run-off presidential election on October 30.

Brazil has the highest number of gun deaths in the world. “We have a very entrenched culture of violence,” explains Juliano Cortinhas, an expert in defence and security at the University of Brasilia. And yet Cortinhas says that 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 NGO 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 one 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 is a big part of Bolsonaro’s political platform. He 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.

Bolsonaro now faces Lula in a presidential run-off on October 30, after neither candidate secured 50% of the vote in the first round in early October. 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 tells The Conversation that “living in a society in which more guns are circulating scares me, and it scares everyone that studies security”. He says that the threats to Brazil’s democracy are higher “because of the radicalism of most of the people who are acquiring these weapons”.

Listen to the full episode to find out more about how gun culture in Brazil is changing, why Bolsonaro wants more people to buy guns and who is buying them.

This episode was produced by Gemma Ware and Mend Mariwany, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. The executive producer was Gemma Ware. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here. A transcript of this episode will be available soon.

Newsclips in this episode from Al Jazeera, Reuters, France 24 English, BBC News and PBS NewsHour.

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