Brazil: Gun Buyback Program a Success
(International Relations and Security Network 28/2/2008)


Results from a recently released study that measured population growth and homicides in Brazil between 1996 and 2006 revealed that homicides dropped by eight percent between 2003 and 2006, a time period that overlaps with a nationwide gun buy-back program during which nearly 500,000 firearms were removed from circulation.


Gun buy-back programs have met with mixed success in Latin America, but according to the study, authored by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Brazil's gun buy-back program played a significant role in reducing violence. The Brazilian Justice Ministry agrees and will restart the program this month.


The buy-back program began in 2004 as part of a strong lobby to reduce violence in Brazil through disarming its citizens, allowing limited amnesty for owning illegal weapons to prompt their handover for cash. Many of the weapons were considered antique and unusable, but there were clearly enough rifles, pistols and even assault rifles turned in to make a difference on a national level.


Rio de Janeiro, however, remains a challenge.


According to the Brazilian "violence map" developed by the authors of the study, 10 percent of all the municipalities in Brazil contributed to a concentration of 73.3 percent of all homicides in 2006, measured at 33,284 deaths. Of the 92 municipalities that make up the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, 43 are on the list.


While not the murder capital of the country (that infamous title goes to Recife), the city of Rio is where the most young people between the ages 15 and 24 are killed, reflecting the resilient nature of the ongoing turf battles between rival drug gangs that employ minors as gunmen. According to the study, there were 17,312 deaths among this age group at the national level in 2006; 879 deaths were registered in Rio de Janeiro, making the a murder rate for this young age group at some 83.6 in 100,000.


Yet even in Rio, where violence is constant in limited sections of the city, the murder rate between 2003 and 2006 during the gun buy-back program fell by 12 percent. This drop is in part due to the fervent work of local NGOs that were instrumental in pushing through the disarmament statute in 2004 and the buy-back program.


Campaigns around the city, especially in the communities most prone to violence, were effective at raising awareness and most importantly convincing the general public that those handing over illegal weapons would not be arrested by the military police, an organization notorious for extra-judicial killings, torturing those taken into custody and corruption.


In a country where homicides have outpaced live births, there are countless analysts, sociologists, writers and others working on these perennial problems with violence. It is clear that the gun buy-back program has had a direct impact on reducing violence across the country.


In a nationwide referendum, Brazilians voted to retain the right to own a weapon, but few would argue that getting rid of the guns they don't need is this country's most direct path to peace.