Brazil president eases gun laws with decree

Jordi MIRO
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro holds up his pen before signing a decree that makes it easier for adults with no criminal records to buy guns and keep them at home (AFP Photo/EVARISTO SA)

Brasília (AFP) - Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday decreed the easing of national gun laws as part of a law-and-order agenda, despite fears it could aggravate already staggering violent crime.

The executive order, signed in a live television broadcast, allows "good citizens" to more easily own firearms, said Bolsonaro.

"To guarantee the legitimate right of defense, as president I am using this weapon," he said, indicating the pen he then used to sign the decree.

Brazil recorded nearly 64,000 homicides in 2017, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone.

According to a survey published last month by the Datafolha firm, 61 percent of Brazilians are opposed to generalized gun ownership.

Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former army captain and longtime lawmaker, took office two weeks ago after being elected in October on promises to crack down on crime and corruption. On the campaign trail he often mimicked a pistol by extending the thumb and forefinger with his hand.

- Armed citizens -

One of Bolsonaro's key pledges was to roll back gun-control laws, on the premise that armed citizens would deter criminals.

His decree makes it much easier for adults with no criminal record to buy guns and keep them at home.

It does not extend to carrying weapons -- concealed or otherwise -- in public, which remains restricted to police, public or private security personnel, and the military.

Bolsonaro said his decree was supported by a 2005 referendum in which 64 percent of Brazilians voted against a total ban on gun sales.

"The people decided to buy guns and ammunition and we cannot deprive those who wanted that at that time," he said, criticizing firearm-ownership restrictions brought in under former leftwing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is now in prison for corruption.

A ministerial source told AFP that the new decree took effect immediately, without needing congressional approval.

A group that monitors violence, the Forum for Public Security, echoed the concern of many in Brazil by saying Bolsonaro's measure risks "increasing insecurity."

It said that several studies have shown that an increase in the number of firearms in circulation correlated to a jump in the number of gun-related deaths.

But Bolsonaro does not agree. In a television interview last week, he said that, with less restrictive gun laws, "you can be sure that violence will fall."

Brazil's homicide rate is 30.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, a level that is three times higher than the level the UN classifies as endemic violence.