The streets are quiet, the joy is missing, and the guns are out. The eve of Carnival feels different this year in Brazil — and it's not just the pandemic. Even as newspaper headlines report the country's coronavirus death toll nearing 250,000, President Jair Bolsonaro has introduced another element of danger: new looser gun ownership laws.
The move is made of four different presidential decrees signed earlier this month that facilitate purchasing, owning and carrying guns. In short, Bolsonaro relaxed background checks on gun purchases, scrapping rules that required authorization from the Army Command and a psychologist accredited by the Federal Police — now, a report signed by a registered psychologist will be enough. And more importantly, Bolsonaro increased the number of weapons allowed for hunters to 30, for sport shooters to 60, and for ordinary citizens to six, allowing Brazilians to build small private arsenals.
Brazilians already live in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, having recorded 43,892 violent deaths in 2020 — in the middle of a pandemic. The figure is a 5% increase compared to 2019, according to G1"s Monitor of Violence. Many are victims of police shootings, 75% of whom are Black and mixed-race Brazilians, according to a recent study.
People lack oxygen, ICU beds, vaccines and jobs — but now they can buy up to six weapons to ‘protect themselves'.
This is the second time Bolsonaro has relaxed gun laws — in 2019, another set of measures led to the proliferation of guns among civilians, although some of them were suspended later. "In a carnival with an atmosphere of Ash Wednesday, the country is watching a macabre parade caused by the tragedy of the new coronavirus," wrote the O Globo daily in a scathing condemnation of the president. "People lack oxygen, ICU beds, vaccines and jobs — but now they can buy up to six weapons to ‘protect themselves'."
Bolsonaro, whose signature salute is a two-fingered gun sign, responded with characteristic dismissal. "The people are pumped," he said while on a break on the shores of the southern state of Santa Catarina. His son Eduardo added that shooting was a sport, and "demonizing" it was "part of a dictatorial leftist plan."
Even in the country that voted him in, it seemed too much. "Does anyone in their right mind believe that security will improve by arming citizens to the teeth?" O Globo asked. "More weapons and more ammunition means more shots fired. And, as dozens of academic studies have shown, more shots mean more deaths."