RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The aftermath of the school shooting in Rio last Thursday, where 23-year-old Wellington Menezes opened fire at the Municipal School Tasso da Silveira in western Realengo, Zona Oeste (West zone), has been leading to a lot of talk about gun control in Brazil.
For anyone outside of Rio or unfamiliar with favela life, this may sound like a reasonable goal. If you’ve seen the scale of arms the drug gangs wield here though, it seems like… finding a needle in the California Redwoods.
Menezes entered the middle school early in the morning on April 7th and shot up at least three classrooms using two revolvers, with a waist belt of six-bullet reloaders. It was Brazil’s first ever school shooting and over 30 students were injured and 12 died tragically.
A disarmament campaign is planned to start up again on May 6th, hoping to take as many guns off the streets of Rio as possible. The campaign first launched in 2005 and the Ministry of Justice estimates that over 1 million firearms were collected in the round ups.
At the same time Brazilian lawmakers plan to propose a national vote on whether to ban the sale of guns. A similar proposal in 2005 was rejected by voters and kept gun sales legal. This bill would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House before going on the ballot.
The leader of Brazil’s Senate, Jose Sarney, said any referendum would be held at the beginning of October – the earliest possible date for the bill to pass… A lot will happen between then and now.
The reason this seems strange to anyone who has spent time here, is those two revolvers are about the least scary guns you can find in Rio. I don’t live in a favela, but I have friends that do, and I’ve visited on a number of occasions, and seen a lot of guns.
Every time I’ve been to Rocinha or Vidigal or Ilha – I’ve seen automatic weapons, chrome plated 9mm’s and enough firepower to take down a small government in the Middle-East. I might have even seen a bazooka once, but that may just be my traumatized imagination.
This is not bragging, but I have been close enough to smell the gun oil of a machine gun while waiting to use the bathroom at a pizzeria (the guy was about seventeen and wearing Havaianas ). I’ve even had two 9mm’s placed on my lap for admiration, although admittedly I put myself in that situation.
I am not trying to cast a disparaging shadow on these communities, they are wonderful centers of culture with honest families trying to live better lives. But no one can argue the prevalence of guns on the streets there.
Not hidden under the couch, not stored away for a rainy day, but paraded around by shirtless teens to ward away competition and make a statement. These kids are not hiding their faces either, they are loud and proud gun owners.
The real point is, that these weapons are not coming from the local “guns & ammo depot”.