By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Gun registration in Brazil has soared over the past eight years, according to research by Globo. Data collected from the Federal Police shows the number of guns with legal licenses jumping from 5,161 in 2004 to 31,500 in 2012, 18,627 of which, some sixty percent, were for ordinary citizens.
However, experts noted that these figures did not necessarily represent new guns in circulation, as gun-owners could have come forward to register an existing weapon after a law passed in 2003 made it illegal to own unregistered firearms.
The law also increased the minimum age for gun ownership from 21 to 25 years, and mandating that potential firearms owners undergo a psychological report and practical test.
“Up to December 31, 2009, there was an amnesty for gun registry in the country, which generated a veritable explosion in the number of new records that do not actually relate to purchases, but to the regularization of weapons that already existed,” said Fabricio Rebelo, a public safety researcher from NGO Movimento Viva Brazil.
The report said that a total of 183,722 guns have been legally registered since 2002. These figures do not include sales of illegal guns, used weapons, or smuggled firearms.
“There is clearly an increase in the number of civilian weapons … and this is concerning,” Bruno Langeani, Justice and Public Safety Coordinator at Instituto Sou da Paz, told The Rio Times. “But it is important to note that even with this increase the purchase rate compared to the total population is still low.”
The Small Arms Survey estimated that there were some 17.6 million civilians guns in circulation in Brazil in 2010, giving a gun ownership rate of 8 per 100 people. Comparatively, in the U.S., Congressional research indicates there are between 270 million and 310 million guns owned by civilians in the US, giving a rate of gun ownership of 101.5 guns per 100 people.
Brazil continues to have a high rate of annual gun-related deaths – around 19.1 per 100,000 people, the 7th highest world-wide – but before gun controls were introduced, in 2003, that rate was 28.9 per 100,000. In the two years after the Disarmament Statute was passed, firearm deaths decreased by 8.8 percent, according to Ministry of Health figures.
El Salvador tops the rate of gun-related deaths, with 56.36 annually per 100,000, while the US comes in at number 12, with 9 per 100,000.
Research published last month by the IPEA, a government-led research organization showed gun or ammo purchases by Brazilian households falling from 57,000 in 2003 to 37,000 in 2010 – a 40 percent drop.
Experts suggested the two organizations’ results were not comparable, because of the way the data were collected. “While the police data give registrations of … legally acquired weapons, the IPEA study questionnaires were administered in homes asking if people had acquired weapons or ammunition in the last year,” explained Langeani.
Brazilian’s small arms industry is now worth some US$100 million per year. Eighty percent of the 9.9 million Brazilian firearms exported over the past forty years were sent to the United States.
The relationship between homicide rates and weapons is a contentious subject in Brazil, where proponents of disarmament argue more guns in circulation means a higher threat, and cite the example of Britain and Australia, where extremely strict gun laws mean gun-related homicides are rare. Defendants of the right to bear arms say violence is down to impunity, gang violence and poor law enforcement, not guns.