Brazilians Reject Proposed Gun Ban

Brazilians rejected a proposal to ban the sale of guns in a national referendum Sunday. More than 36,000 people were killed last year in gun-related incidents in Brazil, four times the number in the United States.

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Brazilians have voted overwhelmingly against a nationwide gun ban. With most of the votes counted in yesterday's referendum, 64 percent voted against making weapon sales illegal. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Rio de Janeiro.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

As Brazil's cities grow more violent and dangerous, 62 percent of the voters in Rio delivered the message: We want our guns. Every one of Brazil's 27 states voted down the government-backed referendum to ban the sale of firearms to most civilians. In rural areas where gun ownership is prized, rejection of the ban reached over 80 percent. It was a stunning defeat of a measure that had the backing of Nobel laureates and the government of President Luis "Lula" da Silva. In Rio, voters streamed into the many polling stations set up for the country's first ever referendum. Voting is compulsory in South America's largest country, where some 100 million registered voters turned out. Rio resident Soraya Castreoto voted against the gun ban. The 42-year-old mother called herself a pacifist, but said the referendum to halt gun sales was nothing more than a smoke screen.

Ms. SORAYA CASTREOTO (Resident): (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: `I think the government is covering up the fact that security forces all over Brazil are corrupt and inefficient,' Castreoto says. `And this referendum,' she adds, `will not fix that problem.'

Opponents of the gun ban tapped into a growing anxiety among the public that the authorities are incapable of protecting the common citizen. Others thought it was a waste of money. Staging the referendum cost an estimated $100 million, money 32-year-old doorman Adalberto Gomes said was better spent on getting at what he called the root of crime.

Mr. ADALBERTO GOMES (Doorman): (Through Translator) I think the real problem in Brazil, which would solve the problem of violence, is better education and more jobs.

McCARTHY: Supporters of the gun ban say it was needed to bring down the death toll from firearms. Thirty-six thousand people were killed last year in gun-related incidents in Brazil, four times the number in the United States. But the message of the pro-ban campaign became muddled and its early lead in the polls slipped. The no campaign handily won, telling the public the government was bent on quashing their constitutional right to bear arms, despite the fact that Brazil's constitution has no such specific right. Federal prosecutor Daniel Sarmento said the no campaign was deft at capitalizing on widespread negative attitudes about President Lula's government, struggling to overcome a debilitating corruption scandal.

Mr. DANIEL SARMENTO (Federal Prosecutor): I think almost everybody in Brazil is nowadays--have a critical view about government. For example, if Lula went to TV to defend the `yes,' that would be excellent for `no.' And the no campaign managed to establish, I think, a link between government and the `yes.'

McCARTHY: Yesterday's vote keeps Brazil's gun shops open, but it brings to a close a heated debate about controlling guns here, a debate that is not likely to be opened again anytime soon. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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