by Joseph P. Tartaro
On Oct. 23, Brazilian voters sent a message to their government, to international gun control advocates and to democratic people in every corner of the globe by defeating a referendum on an almost total ban on the private possession of guns and ammunition.
By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Brazilians, for whom voting is mandatory or they are subject to a fine, rejected a government-sponsored proposal to ban the sale and possession of firearms and ammunition by all citizens except for the military, police, security agencies and, under strict controls, shooting clubs and collectors.
While other countries have banned guns, supporters of both the Yes and No positions say this is the first time anywhere in the world that the electorate has been called on to decide the issue.
The size of the rejection was seen by some as a protest at the failure of the governments policy on public safety and security and as a reflection of discontent with the scandal-plagued government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, according to The Financial Times.
The vote was held to ratify a clause in the 2003 statute of disarmament, which shut off most gun sales. The statute made it harder for Brazilians to buy arms and introduced a virtual prohibition on carrying them. The proposed ban on selling firearms went to a referendum after the statute met opposition from pro-gun and pro-self-defense lawmakers.
The No campaignthe effort against the banmade much of the failure of public policy to deal with the threat of violence, telling people that the ban would not disarm criminals or assure safety and that it would strip them of their right to choose. The Yes campaign was seen to lack substance and ultimately failed to present convincing arguments on the risks of gun ownership.
The proposed ban had been backed by the government, the Catholic Church, the United Nations, international gun controllers, and even several Nobel Peace Prize winners. However, none of that helped against the argument that guns are necessary for personal security.
Opinion polls on the eve of the referendum revealed a strong correlation between rejection of the ban and disapproval of Lula da Silvas government.
Lula da Silva said he voted Yes. I think that for an ordinary person, to have a gun will not give greater security, he said. The Yes campaign, which reflected the popular anti-gun claims that a person with a gun is 43 times more likely to be killed by it, supported the presidents argument by claiming gun-owning householders were more likely to be killed during an armed robbery than those without guns.
But voters were more impressed with the arguments of the No campaign. In the state of Rio Grande do Sulhome to Taurus and Rossi, Brazils two biggest gun manufacturersthe ban was rejected by a ratio of more than four to one.
Activists groups such as the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a UK-based global network consisting of more than 700 gun control groups which have been driving the global gun control effort in the United Nations, were hoping for a Yes vote in part for the momentum it would give in other countries as well as at the UN where the gun issue will come to a vote in 2006.
Voters in Brazil once again demonstrated that when people are given a clear choice, they vote to retain gun rights.
That was the analysis of gun rights advocates in America following the lopsided 64% victory.
History has demonstrated that when people are disarmed, they are at the mercy of predators who have no mercy, and governments that all too often oppress people rather than protect them from evil, said Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb.
He called the Oct. 23 election results a victory for freedom and a strong message for those zealots who would take away that freedom.
Likewise, National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the vote was a victory for freedom and a stunning defeat for the global gun control movement, according to Associated Press.
He told a reporter that the gun ban referendum was designed to use Brazil as the rallying point to enact gun bans in the United States.
Early in the campaign to eradicate gun ownership in the South American nation, polls indicated that as many as 80% of the voters there would support the gun ban on election day. That lead dwindled after both sides were given free air time on television to present their cases.
AP reported that Brazilians who voted against the measure were adamant about protecting their liberty. One man, identified as army officer Pedro Ricardo of Sao Paolo, said, Its immoral for the government to have this vote. He suggested that the government was trying to deflect responsibility for crime in the country, and for its inability to keep the peace.
Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, told Gun Week that the election outcome curiously mirrored similar gun ban referendums in the United States. He recalled that proposals to ban handguns in Massachusetts in 1976 and California in 1982 were both rejected 65-35%, while a stringent 1997 anti-gun initiative in Washington was turned back 71-29%. In all three cases, early polling showed those gun control measures to have had healthy leads.
Gun Weeks monitoring of polling in Brazil showed a continuing erosion of support for the ban referendum which surveys a couple of months earlier had shown would be approved by about 80% of the voters.
Violence is reported rampant throughout Brazil, from the cities to the Amazon jungle. Drugs gangs control Rios slumsone area is named the Gaza Strip because of the frequent clashes.
Delinquents are often dealt with by hired hitmen called justiceiros and in the vast interior, land disputes and other scores are settled by hired gunmen known as pistoleiros.
The United Nations ranks Brazil second in the world behind Venezuela in per capita gun deaths, with 22 for every 100,000 people. In absolute terms it leads, with more than 36,000 shot and killed last year, according to government figures.
That is down from 39,000 in 2003, a drop pro-ban groups attribute to a government-sponsored gun buy-up program.
Under existing laws, any Brazilian over the age of 25 can buy a firearm, provided they pass background checks.
There are estimated to be more than 17 million guns in Brazil, nine million of which are not registered, according to a survey by non-governmental groups.
The Brazilian government claims that more than 450,000 small arms, ranging from handguns and rifles to mortars, have been collected during an official buy-up and amnesty campaign offering cash for arms, although, according to The New York Times, Walter Merling of the Brazilian Association of Gun Collectors dismissed the significance of the effort by saying that 90% of what was turned in was useless old junk.