Gun market soars in Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro

. Jan 28, 2020
Gun market soars in Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro Jair Bolsonaro signs decree to loosen gun control laws. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

The indelible image of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign in 2018 consisted of the ex-Army captain on a stage in front of cheering supporters, smiling open-mouthed and making finger gun gestures. While Mr. Bolsonaro spoke to many of the fears and concerns of the Brazilian people, one of his most characteristical promises was to loosen the country’s gun laws, to allow the so-called “upstanding citizens” to defend themselves against the “bandits.”

The soon-to-be president judged this to be a popular stance, based on the results of a 2005 plebiscite, in which two-thirds of the electorate voted against the blanket ban of firearm sales in Brazil.

</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="">pro-gun arguments</a> were a nod toward public security—a crucial issue in the 2018 election—but they also caused weapon manufacturers to look at Brazil as a promising market. Before, though the trade of firearms and ammunition is regulated in the country, the arms sector within Brazil never really got off the ground, with local players focusing much more on exports than the highly restricted domestic market. For instance, Brazil&#8217;s largest arms manufacturer Taurus sends 90 percent of its production abroad.</p> <p>Yet, even with the heavily restricted local market, Brazil is one of the three biggest players in the global firearms sector, accounting for 9.5 percent of world sales in 2016, behind the U.S. and Italy. That year, sales hit USD 6.5 billion.</p> <p>The market share of the U.S., Italy, and Brazil added up to 36 percent, but despite its external strength, the domestic Brazilian market only generated around USD 24.4 million in 2016.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1290812"> </div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <h2>The Bolsonaro factor</h2> <p>But this scenario changed in 2018, when the total of firearms and their parts imported by Brazil reached almost USD 76 million. While 44 percent of that total was spent on weapons used exclusively by the Armed Forces, sales of small firearms—such as pistols and revolvers—increased 432 percent in relation to 2017. Volume increased too, with some 28,000 of these guns imported in 2018, as opposed to just 8,000 the previous year.</p> <p>In 2019, with Jair Bolsonaro finger-gunning his way to the presidency, the sale of small arms practically doubled—55,000 such weapons arrived in Brazil last year, totaling USD 21 million in purchases, of the USD 56 million total sales of all guns and ammunition. This astounding increase can be put down to <a href="">President Bolsonaro&#8217;s continued attempts</a> to loosen legislation for gun ownership and carry licenses, issuing a total of eight decrees on the matter in his first year in office.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1290530"> </div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1290664"> </div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <p>Permits are now valid for ten years, instead of five, and renewal procedures have been significantly simplified. Permissions are also in place to purchase more powerful weapons, and rural property owners have been given the full license to bear arms on any part of their land.  </p> <p>Newspaper <em>Folha de S.Paulo</em> showed that records for gun ownership licenses in Brazil increased 48 percent in the first 11 months of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s presidency, from 47,600 in 2018 to 70,800 in November 2019.</p> <p>Going into a more precise analysis, the changes promoted by Mr. Bolsonaro came into effect between June and August of 2019, and the granting of licenses spiked precisely in these months. Newspaper <em>O Globo</em> showed that the average number of licenses per month last year was 3,500, but June, July, and August saw averages of 6,200.</p> <p>These trends have led weapon manufacturers to consider setting up offices in Brazil. American firm Sig Sauer, which supplies arms to the U.S. Army, has already said it plans to open a factory in Brazil, if the domestic market allows foreigners to enter. Other companies, such as Caracal, CZ, and DFA, are also studying this possibility.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1290983"> </div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1291024"> </div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <h2>Market concentration</h2> <p>Currently, two companies dominate the Brazilian arms market: Taurus and Imbel, the latter being created in the 1970s to supply the needs of the country&#8217;s Armed Forces. But this concentration brings countless losses not only to the market, but also to consumers.</p> <p>In 2018, <a href="">Taurus&#8217; gross profit was BRL 307 million</a>, three times that recorded in 2017. Last year, the company&#8217;s total arms production was just over 1 million units.</p> <p>However, the quality of the weapons sold by Taurus has <a href="">continuously been brought into question</a>. Two of the president&#8217;s sons, Rio City Councilor Carlos Bolsonaro and Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, are big advocates of opening up the firearms market and have been consistent critics of Taurus.</p> <p>&#8220;Defective Taurus weapons have been killing police and citizens. To support the Taurus monopoly is to hold Brazil back,&#8221; said Eduardo in 2017. Carlos, meanwhile, has accused the company of paying to maintain its monopoly and using the media to attack the Bolsonaro family, precisely because they are pushing to open up the market to foreign players.</p> <p>Among Taurus&#8217; major setbacks in Brazil is a case involving the military police force of São Paulo state. The company was banned from selling weapons to the São Paulo government for two years due to the malfunctioning of 7,000 submachine guns acquired from the company in 2011. The defects meant these weapons were never used.</p> <p>Now, the discussion is about returning this equipment and reimbursing the public treasury.

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Brenno Grillo

Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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