Ten years ago, voters in Brazil rejected a nationwide referendum that would have banned the sale of handguns, stunning anti-gun advocates who expected the vote would easily go their way. Instead, more than 60 percent of voters opposed the ban, despite onerous gun control laws in Brazil that resulted in a relatively low rate of gun ownership. Perhaps the people of Brazil recognized that since the vast majority of violence (Brazil’s homicide rate is far higher than that of the United States) was being committed by people illegally possessing firearms, it didn’t make much sense to ban gun ownership among non-criminals.
An analyst with the Viva Rio think tank bemoaned the result at the time, telling NBC News, “Now a lot of Brazilians are insisting on their right to bear arms. They don’t even have a pseudo right to bear arms. It’s not in their Constitution.”
It may not be in Brazil’s constitution, but a decade later the nation is poised to pass real gun reform laws that would guarantee that law-abiding citizens could own firearms for self-defense. The bill would even allow some Brazilians (including lawmakers) the right to carry a firearm for self-defense. The bill itself contains measures that would be seen as downright draconian here in the United States (a limit on gun purchases of nine a year, for example, and a limit of only 600 rounds of ammunition), but the measure represents a huge leap forward in Brazil.
Supporters of the bill, like Congressman Laudivio Carvalho, say they want to “give back the good citizens their right to defend their lives, their families, and their property, since the state isn’t enough.” But opponents, like Congressman Alessandro Molon, counter, “We can’t sign off on the state’s failure. We can’t just say ‘we’re not capable of guaranteeing everyone’s safety. Deal with it yourselves.’”
If that’s the best argument the anti-gun crowd can muster, they can’t be too surprised at the unpopularity of their position. First of all, why can’t you say you’re not capable of guaranteeing anyone’s safety? Clearly it’s true. Why can’t the government acknowledge what the people already know: The state has a role to play in trying to protect the community, but we also have a right and a responsibility to be able to protect ourselves as well.
Law-abiding Brazilians aren’t fools. They understand that the nation’s gun laws keep them from owning firearms for personal protection, while elites are protected by armed security and violent criminals easily obtain guns on the black market. They’d like to see this changed, and perhaps they will if the bill makes it through the Brazilian legislature. Who knows, in a few years we could see legislation introduced that opens up the right to legally carry firearms to all law-abiding Brazilians, and not just the politicians and other protected classes. What’s clear is that for now, support for the right to keep and bear arms continues to grow in Brazil. I wish all those who advocate in support of the human right of self-defense much success in their efforts.