Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Brazil to vote on gun referendum today

October 23, 2005

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— A nationwide antigun referendum has stirred many Brazilians to defend a right they feel they deserve, although it's not guaranteed by their Constitution: The right to bear arms.

Just weeks ago, antigun advocates thought they'd win easily when they proposed a nationwide referendum to ban the sale of firearms in Brazil, which kill nearly 40,000 people a year.

But as 122 million Brazilians prepare to vote today, polls show a majority are likely to oppose the ban.

"I'm going to vote 'no.' Not because I have a gun or want to buy one but because I think we have the right to buy guns to defend ourselves," said Maria Fatima da Silva, a 33-year-old social worker in Vila do Joao, one of the city's most violent shantytowns.

The referendum proposes banning the sale of firearms and ammunitions with special exception for police, the military, some security guards, gun collectors and sports shooters.

It is the last phase of a 2003 disarmament law that sharply restricted who could legally purchase firearms and who could carry guns in the streets.

That law, plus a government-sponsored gun buyback program appears to have reduced the death toll from firearms by about 8 percent this year.

But the referendum may have backfired for those in favor of further reducing gun violence.

"What has happened is there has been a tremendous surge in demand for buying guns and stocking up on ammunition," said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia. "There's been an upswing of people joining shooting clubs."


People pass graffiti Saturday in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilians will vote today on whether they want to ban the sale of firearms. Brazil ranks second in deaths by guns with 21.72 per 100,000 people a year, behind only Venezuela with 34.3 gun deaths per 100,000.

People pass graffiti Saturday in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilians will vote today on whether they want to ban the sale of firearms. Brazil ranks second in deaths by guns with 21.72 per 100,000 people a year, behind only Venezuela with 34.3 gun deaths per 100,000.

Before the referendum, support for the ban was running as high as 80 percent. But in the weeks before the referendum, both sides were granted free time to present their cases on prime-time TV, and the pro-gun lobby began to grow.

"Most of the media supported the ban, so before the television spots, nobody gave it much thought, but when the pro-gun lobby got equal time the opinion really shifted," said Jessica Galeria, who researches gun violence for the Viva Rio think tank. "They were smart, using images of Nelson Mandela, Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall to link owning a gun with freedom."

Fleischer, said the country's pro-gun lobby successfully played on Brazilians' fears that the police can't protect them.

"The campaign for 'no' is much better organized in terms of marketing and psychology. They ask the question, 'Do you feel protected and do you think the government is protecting you?' and the answer is a violent 'no,'" Fleischer said.

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