Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws : Parallels Though gun violence takes a huge toll in Brazil, there's a push to relax gun laws. And many of the arguments are similar to the ones in the U.S.

Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws

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In Brazil, almost 60,000 people were murdered in 2014. In absolute numbers, that makes Brazil the deadliest place in the world outside of Syria. Most of those victims were killed with guns. And now some Brazilian lawmakers are proposing a solution inspired by the United States' gun laws. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro starts her report in the northern Brazilian city of Natal.

MARCOS BRANDAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: At Natal's dilapidated morgue, director Marcos Brandao walks over the blood-smeared floor to where the corpses are kept. He points out the labels attached to bright metal doors.

I'm looking at the refrigerators where they have the names and how the people died - and arma de fogo - gunfire, gunfire, gunfire, gunfire, gunfire. The majority of the people who ended up here were killed by guns.

BRANDAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The morgue director counts out loud. It's not been a particularly bad night, yet there are nine shooting victims here in cold storage.

BRANDAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Most are shot with illegally sourced revolvers," he tells me. So this is the thing. Brazil actually has tough gun laws. If you want one, you have to have a fixed address, prove you have a legitimate income and have no criminal record. You also need to take a mental health test plus show you know how to handle a gun and shoot it. And you have to show evidence of why you need a gun - for example, if there's a police report of an attack against you.

Even after all of that, the police can arbitrarily deny your request, as they are the ones that get to decide whether or not to issue you with a permit.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: We reached Congressmen Edson Moreira by phone. He's part of what is known as the Bullets, Beef and Bible caucus in Brazil's Congress. Moreira tells me Brazil doesn't have a gun problem. It has a problem of illegal guns in the hands of criminals, especially drug traffickers. The illegal gun market is huge in Brazil, but it's an arduous process, he says, to legally buy a firearm. That's why his group has introduced legislation to relax the ability of the police to decide who gets a weapon.

EDSON MOREIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The idea," he says, "is to return to the public the right to own a gun or not." Basically, his argument is one familiar to Americans. If the bad guys have guns, the good guys should be allowed to have them as well to protect themselves. And indeed, Moreira tells me, he is inspired by America's gun laws.

MOREIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The USA, he says, has the perfect legislation in the Second Amendment which, he says, guarantees the population the right to bear arms. Now, the National Rifle Association has been involved in past gun control debates here, and it's clear many of the arguments used in Brazil are similar to those used by the American gun lobby.

Fabricio Rebelo is with the Research Center on Law and Security which wants to ease gun laws. He denies, though, that Brazil is modeling itself on the U.S.

FABRICIO REBELO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the proposed legislation in the law would still mean Brazil would have very strict gun control laws unlike a more relaxed market like the one in North America.

Gun control advocated say the basic argument, though, of gun rights groups here is flawed because the people who are arguing for greater access to guns don't account for most of the victims. Dr. Fabio Ataide is a judge in Natal, and he teaches criminology. He says guns overwhelmingly kill young black men in Brazil.

FABIO ATAIDE: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "We're seeing a massacre of our young population," he says. "It's a massacre by drops - one day, one young person, tomorrow, another. It's almost the mass extermination of a population. White Brazil, though, is seeing fewer homicides. Violence is going down there, but black Brazil is seeing an explosion of violence," he says.

IVAN MARQUES: We're not talking about violence that is committed in neighborhood - the rich neighborhoods or the rich parts of town.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ivan Marques, the director of Sou da Paz Institute, which focuses on disarming the population. He says more guns will simply mean more black deaths. But instead of trying to address that problem, he says legislators are intent on further arming the population.

MARQUES: We're talking about crime committed by organized crime almost always related to drug trafficking.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the solution to that is better policing and better governance in poor communities. What both sides agree on is that something urgently needs to be done. A new study shows that 10 percent of all murders worldwide now happen in Brazil. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Natal.

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