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Gun licenses and imports shoot up in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

and . Aug 31, 2020
gun control regulation Image: André Chiavassa/TBR

During the 2018 campaign trail, one gesture symbolized the Jair Bolsonaro campaign more than any other: at every rally, on every social media post, in every photo op with supporters, he could be seen with an open-mouthed grin and his trademark finger guns — less of a branding exercise, and more a campaign promise. For decades, Mr. Bolsonaro has been a vocal supporter of scrapping gun control regulations, asserting that Brazilians must take matters of justice into their own hands. In a 2017 interview, he said “violence must be fought with violence,” while in an April cabinet meeting, he exclaimed that “an armed population will never be enslaved.”

But besides the rhetorical bluster to expand the ownership of guns in Brazil — which consistently ruffled the feathers of his opponents on the left — did Mr. Bolsonaro actually walk the walk after talking the talk? Data suggests he did. Gun imports have doubled in Brazil, and firearm license requests skyrocketed since he took office as president.

</p> <p>Between January and July 2020, Brazil imported nearly USD 49 million in guns and ammunition —&nbsp;more than double the same period in 2019. A 28-percent share of these purchases came in Austria — home of renowned manufacturer Glock — followed by Turkey and the U.S. with 19 and 11 percent.</p> <p>This increase in imports is a direct result of a May 2019 decision by the president, which served to shatter the monopoly of homegrown firearm manufacturer Taurus. Previously, rules stipulated that guns could only be imported from abroad if Taurus did not already produce an identical or similar model.</p> <p>When the prospect of loosening restrictions was announced by the president on January 15, Google searches for &#8216;owning firearm&#8217; and similar terms exploded, as seen in the interactive chart below.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3618526"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>The measure came as a blow for the already struggling Taurus, which had been hit with an image crisis after faults in its pistols, widely used by police forces around the country. The company is now banned from holding contracts with the São Paulo military police for at least two years, as a result of a lawsuit brewing since 2016.</p> <p>NGOs that monitor public security were not completely against the measure, as the breaking of Taurus&#8217; monopoly would allow police forces access to higher quality equipment. However, they warn that background checks should be put in place on the exporting company. &#8220;If this is done in a reckless manner, the suffering stays with the receiving country, with the receiving civil society,&#8221; says Bruno Langeani, project manager at Instituto Sou da Paz, speaking to <strong>the Brazilian Report.</strong></p> <p>Besides the change to import rules, the government&#8217;s measures have also relaxed broader regulations that restricted access to firearms, which has led to a significant increase in civilians owning guns.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to National Firearms System (Sinarm) data obtained by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> through an Access to Information Law request, almost 90,000 new firearms were registered in the first seven months of 2020, and 56,000 civilian gun licenses were granted. These totals are comparable to results from the entirety of 2019, which saw 96,064 weapons registered and 54,413 individual licenses.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3618890"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3618855"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>When analyzed in the context of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s public declarations, security experts have warned of a growing &#8216;political use&#8217; of firearms. &#8220;It&#8217;s one thing to imagine more armed people, more crime, in the context of self defense. It&#8217;s another thing to have a confirmation from the president that he is interested in forming a militia to put pressure on the opposition,&#8221; says Mr. Langeani. &#8220;Then, we are then speaking of a threat to democracy.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <h2>Opening the door with all guns blazing</h2> <p>Beyond increasing exports, President Bolsonaro has shown that he wants a complete opening of the firearm market. His son, member of Congress and fellow gun enthusiast Eduardo Bolsonaro, has been lobbying for foreign gun manufacturers to set up shop in Brazil. In April last year, he tweeted about a meeting with representatives of German-American manufacturer Sig Sauer. &#8220;They want to set up a factory in Brazil. Competency and excellency in their product exist, what is missing is the political assurance that the lobby will not insert lots of red tape to hinder their installation,&#8221;&nbsp; wrote Eduardo Bolsonaro.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3618559"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>In June, newspaper <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/06/exercito-negocia-parceria-com-empresa-de-armas-apoiada-por-eduardo-bolsonaro.shtml">Folha de São Paulo</a> reported that the Brazilian Army is negotiating a partnership with Sig Sauer by way of state-owned war material company Imbel. Citing sources from the Armed Forces, Folha said the deal only lacks approval from the Brazilian and U.S. governments.</p> <p>However, talks of a significant market shift may be premature, as domestic manufacturers, such as Taurus, are still able to benefit from looser regulations. &#8220;We have seen evidence that the legal gun market in Brazil has grown, so we have more guns circulating, and also an increase in the market share of foreign companies in this total, which was practically dominated by national production,&#8221; says Mr. Langeani.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;But you can have a growth in both foreign and domestic supply,&#8221; he explains, adding that homegrown manufacturers have the advantage of not having to face initial regulatory challenges by which foreign firms may be hamstrung.

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Laís Martins

Laís Martins is a Brazilian journalist pursuing a master's degree in Media and Globalization. Her coverage is focused on politics, human rights, and society. Previously, she worked for Reuters Brasil.

Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is a former editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas

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