Brazil gets new gun law

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI Latin America Correspondent  |  July 2, 2004 at 7:14 PM
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SAO PAULO, July 2 (UPI) -- The Brazilian government published Friday the final draft of its new gun law created to curb one of the world's highest murder rates.

The new decree was signed late Thursday by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva officially making the nation's new Disarmament Statute law.

It contains 77 articles on a wide variety of items dealing with types of weapons, their use and restrictions on use as well as regulations for ownership.

The decree also establishes the National Weapons System, part of the Ministries of Justice and Defense.

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.

The government has also set aside $3.2 million for Brazilians as compensation for those who turn their guns into authorities.

An estimated 50,000 Brazilians were killed in gun-related violence last year.

The new law 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.

The legislation was first signed in December 2003, making it illegal for civilians to carry firearms -- except under very special circumstances, such as hunting for their livelihood.

At the time, Lula stressed that the arms-control statute was an important step toward curbing the violence in Brazil, where according to the World Health Organization, a person is killed every 12 minutes by a gun, one of the highest death rates by firearms in the world.

Lula portrayed the law's official passing as a move toward "social justice" in a nation where gun violence is particularly prevalent among its poorer populace.

"It is a demarcation line in every society," he said. "It is important to call peace by it true name: social justice."

The law prohibits ordinary citizens from owning guns, limiting their ownership to police, security guards and other law enforcement officials, and raises the minimum age from 21 to 25 to purchase a gun.

Those wishing to purchase a firearm will have to show proof of age and be subject to a rigorous background check similar to process for purchasing firearms in the United States. Currently Brazilians can buy a gun on the same day by showing an ID and proof of residency and employment.

The bill also calls for a national referendum in 2005 on whether gun sales should be banned in Brazil.

According to estimates, some 50,000 people are killed every year by guns, most of the deaths occurring in large urban areas like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Both cities have seen a spike in gang-related deaths.

Despite promises to control violence, gun crime rates in Sao Paulo and Rio have actually increased in the last year, due in large part to an escalating war between criminal gangs and police. In recent months, gangs have become more brazen in their attacks on police, killing officers in their stations and while on patrol.

In Rio, federal troops were sent into the city's largest "favela," or slum, earlier this year to help curb the gang violence and end killing of innocent bystanders caught in crossfire.

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