Brazil implements new gun law

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI Latin America Correspondent  |  Sept. 22, 2004 at 7:22 PM
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SAO PAULO, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Brazil's new stricter gun-control laws went into effect Wednesday, part of a nationwide effort to curtail one of the world's highest murder rates.

According to legislation that passed in December 2003, unlicensed gun carriers caught carrying a weapon faces prison time, 2-4 years as well as a fine.

Restrictions created by the new law included stricter control of weapon importation and mandatory registration of all firearms. Gun licenses will also have to be renewed every three years, according to the new law.

On Tuesday, the government declared all current gun licenses -- whether issued by federal or state police -- expired, forcing all gun owners to obtain a new license or face the legal consequences. One of the new requirements for legal ownership is that applicants must be at least 25 years old.

But licenses won't be easy to come by, said Fernando Segovia, head of Brazil's National Arms System. Only individuals who can prove they are employed in a "dangerous occupation" or are threatened with bodily harm will be considered for a license.

"These individuals will have to substantiate this, by presenting documents or proofs to the Federal Police, in order to obtain gun licenses," said Segovia.

Even after meeting the standard requirements for ownership, would-be gun carriers have to pass a series of tests, including psychological and marksmanship examinations.

Meanwhile gun owners -- both licensed and otherwise -- who are interested in giving up their weapons to federal police can do so in exchange for cash until the end of the year and without penalty.

"Even if their gun licenses have expired, they can go to the Federal Police, obtain an authorization to transport the arms, and, with this document, go home and get their guns and take them to the Federal Police," said Segovia.

The project is part of a nationwide program that start in July under which authorities compensate citizens for turning in firearms -- no questions asked -- as part of an effort to curtail slayings.

Most gun owners or those just possessing a firearm will be compensated between 100 reals (about $35) and 300 reals (around $ 105) for handing over their weapons to Federal Police.

The federal government has also set aside $10 million for Brazilians as compensation and hopes to get off the streets regardless of who owns them or even if they were used in a crime.

"We don't want to know who is turning them in," said Federal Police official Valdinho Jacinto Caetano in July. "We'll presume all who do are innocent because we just want to remove the weapons from circulation."

Citizens do, however, have to provide their names so that authorities can write them a bank draft for their compensation.

So far the project has yield some amazing results. Earlier this month police announced they had collected 80,000 guns in three months, a goal they hoped to reach to twice that time.

Brazil plans on taking gun control even further in 2005, when it will hold a nationwide referendum asking whether gun sales should be banned outright in Brazil. If the referendum receives a "yes" majority for banning, then the measure will be considered in Brazil's highest court.

The new law and hand-in program was a long time in coming for Brazil, whose larger cities and even the smaller municipalities have experienced a dramatic increase in gun violence in recent years.

An estimated 40,000 Brazilians were killed in gun-related violence last year. The country has the 4th highest murder rate in the world, as reported by the United Nations.

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