The necropolitics behind the arming of the population in Brazil

Just before Carnival, Jair Bolsonaro issued four decrees that permit an increase in the circulation of guns and ammunition

“I’m arming the public because I don’t want a dictatorship, we can’t wait any longer. Anyone who doesn’t agree with my platforms of family, country, an armed populace, freedom of expression and the free market is in the wrong government”.

The statement above, made by President Jair Bolsonaro at a cabinet meeting in April 2020 – a video of which was made public by the Supreme Court – makes clear the dangerous and undemocratic aspirations of the government by undermining the Disarmament Act.

Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro’s plans to arm the population have made strides in Brazil. The latest move came on the evening of February 12, right before the Carnival holiday, when the government published four federal decrees in an extra issue of the Federal Gazette making it easier for people to buy guns and ammunition.

In the first two years of this government, there have been 10 decrees, 14 ministerial orders, two legislative bills and one resolution on the topic. Between December 2018 and December 2020, Brazil saw a 65% increase in gun ownership, according to a survey by the newspaper O Globo in partnership with the Igarapé and Sou da Paz institutes.

This time, the measures included an update of the list of products controlled by the Army. No longer included in this category are bullets, machinery and presses for reloading ammunition, magazines and telescopic sights. Moreover, the limit on gun purchases by so-called CACs (hunters, marksmen and collectors) without the express authorization of the Army has risen to 60 for marksmen, 30 for hunters and 10 for collectors. Citizens without licenses can also purchase up to six guns, or eight for judges, public prosecutors, members of the federal, state or district police and prison officers and guards, among other measures.

As pointed out by the lawyer Gabriel Sampaio, coordinator of the program to Combat Institutional Violence at Conectas Human Rights, the relaxation of gun control is associated with an increase in the number of violent deaths in Brazil. According to the 14th Annual Report on Brazilian Public Security, published by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 25,712 violent deaths between January and June 2020 – an increase of 7% from the previous year.

“Proportionally speaking, based on data, those most affected by the increase in the circulation of guns are black people, in particular young black youth,” said Sampaio. According to the latest edition of the Atlas of Violence (2020), black people represented 75.7% of the victims of all homicides in the country in 2018. Furthermore, said Sampaio, access to guns is also identified with certain groups. We know who are buying these guns: in addition to CACs, we are talking about people with a higher purchasing power,” he said.

According to the lawyer, pressure from civil society is essential to prevent these gun policies. “They are abusive decrees that are outside the purview of the Executive branch. It needs to be widely debated with society and the Legislature is a place for this debate to take place,” he said. “Making gun control more flexible at a time when Brazil is going through the biggest pandemic in recent history is a sign of the necropolitics that have underpinned government actions, a total lack of commitment to life. This is the most shocking aspect of the publication of these decrees.”

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