Why is it important to track arms and ammunition in Brazil?

With no clarifications or public consultations, Bolsonaro repeals Army decrees that require the marking and tracking of arms and ammunition

Obsolete and unusable weapons taken to be destroyed by the Army. Photo: Tânia Rego/Agência Brasil) Obsolete and unusable weapons taken to be destroyed by the Army. Photo: Tânia Rego/Agência Brasil)

About a month ago, on April 17, President Jair Bolsonaro ordered the repeal of three Brazilian Army decrees that had established protocols for the identification, tracking and control of weapons, explosives and ammunition manufactured in the country an exported or imported.

Decrees 46, 60 and 61 had been published in March and April this year based on a recommendation by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office made in July 2018, following the investigation into the origin of the bullets used to kill the city councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes.

An audit conducted by the Federal Audit Court on the inspection of products controlled by the Army was also decisive for the publication of the decrees, especially no. 46.

After being asked by the Office of the Federal Prosecutor for the Rights of the Citizen, a body that reports to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the Army Logistics Command admitted that the president had ordered the repeal of the measures created to ensure better arms controls in response to requests from the “public administration and social media”. The Federal Prosecutor is investigating fundamental rights violations and social setbacks caused by the suspension of the decrees.

Pressure for more control

An investigation conducted by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office found that the ammunition used to rob a branch of the Post Office in the state of Paraíba in July 2017 was from the same batch (UZZ-18) as the bullets used to kill the city councilor Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes in March 2018.

This same batch (UZZ-18) of ammunition was also used in one of the biggest massacres in São Paulo’s history, the Osasco massacre, when 17 young people, most of them blacks from poor neighborhoods, were killed in the municipalities of Barueri and Osasco in August 2015.

These discoveries, coupled with pressure from the banking sector concerned with reducing the number of attacks on bank branches and armored vehicles (that besides firearms use explosives, which are also classified as controlled products subject to oversight), led the Army to set up a Technical Committee to discuss improvements to the system. The decrees published in March and repealed by the president a month later are the direct result of nearly two years of work by this group.

Decree No. 60 determined the identification and marking of all firearms manufactured in the country and exported or imported. Decree No. 61, meanwhile, addressed the control of ammunition, improving the marking on the ammunition itself and the packaging, in addition to requiring the police to have an electronic system to control their ammunition stocks.

The decrees also affect, albeit indirectly, so-called CACs (Collectors, Marksmen and Hunters), improving the traceability of the guns and ammunition owned by these groups, including by requiring the marking of cartridge cases used in reloading ammunition.

Both decrees were issued after police investigations found that the former police sergeant Ronnie Lessa, identified as one of Marielle Franco’s killers, had authorization to buy guns and ammunition because he had a CAC certificate. The same can be said for another suspect, the former police captain Adriano da Nóbrega, who had connections with militia groups and close ties to the Bolsonaro family.



Production without controls

During its investigation, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office found that the company CBC (Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos), which has a monopoly on the production of ammunition in Brazil, has been manufacturing batches of bullets with more than 30 million cartridges.

However, a Brazilian Army resolution sets the standard maximum batch at 10,000 bullets. The UZZ-18 batch, for example, contains 2.4 million units.

According to organizations that work with this issue, such as the Sou da Paz Institute, the production of larger batches of bullets than permitted by law prevents any kind of control and tracking.

Increase of the maximum purchase limit

“In addition to failing in its oversight of ammunition production, the federal government has also encouraged purchases and increased demand, going against all data, protocols and international recommendations on the subject,” said Juana Kweitel, executive director of Conectas.

One week after the repeal of the Army decrees, the ministries of Defense and Justice published a measure permitting a higher maximum limit on ammunition purchases by individuals.

Starting in April, the amount of ammunition permitted for each person rose from 200 to 600 units per year. Before Bolsonaro took office, the authorized amount was 50 units per year. A 12-fold increase, according to Sou da Paz.

Efforts in Congress

In the Lower House of Congress, seven PDLs (Legislative Decree Bills) have been submitted calling for the suspension of the measure by the Ministry of Defense that repealed the Army decree. Since they address the exact same topic, six of the bills were annexed to the first one, drafted by Congressman Alessandro Molon, of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).

There is also a bill in the Senate, presented by CIDADANIA party senators Alessandro Vieira, Eliziane Gama and Jorge Kajuru.

According to the rules of the remote deliberation system currently in place in the National Congress, given the ‘state of public calamity’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the bills could be voted directly in a full session of the legislative houses – if so agreed by the party leaders.

Case in the Supreme Court

In the Supreme Court, the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) and the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) have filed two cases – ADPFs (Allegation of Violation of a Fundamental Precept) No. 681 and 683 – also requesting the suspension of the presidential order and restoring the effects of the original decrees. The parties claim that the relaxation of the measures to track and mark weapons will facilitate criminal activity.

The two cases are under the rapporteurship of Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who has asked for the opinion of the Army Logistics Commander, the Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office before taking a position on the request.

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