Better equipped than the police: Arms boom in Brazil causes nervousness ahead of elections

Brazil is experiencing an arms glut under President Bolsonaro.

Better equipped than the police: Arms boom in Brazil causes nervousness ahead of elections

Brazil is experiencing an arms glut under President Bolsonaro. The number of pistol and rifle owners has quintupled. It's a hot topic ahead of the elections, because no matter what the outcome, many fear hardliners will take up arms in the name of politics.

Elitusalem Gomes Freitas likes the smell of gunpowder when he has hit the mark with his rifle in a shooting club in Rio de Janeiro - these have been booming since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in early 2019. Ex-policeman Gomes Freitas happily repeats the right-wing president's motto : "An armed people will never be enslaved".

Under gun enthusiast Bolsonaro, the number of collectors, sport shooters and hunters rose from 117,000 in 2019 to over 673,000. With his decrees, the head of state has massively facilitated access to firearms: there are now almost twice as many private gun owners as police officers. This is making some Brazilians nervous ahead of the October 2 presidential election in their deeply divided country.

"Today, ordinary people can buy guns that are more powerful than those used by the police," says expert Bruno Langeani, who wrote a book on firearms in Brazil. "Hunters, marksmen and collectors can buy up to 60 weapons per nose, including up to 30 assault rifles".

According to estimates by the non-governmental organization Brazilian Security Forum, around 4.4 million guns are in circulation in the South American country with a population of 214 million, with a third of the gun licenses having expired. This stock will become a "curse for future generations," Langeani warns.

For fear of violent riots during the presidential election, the Supreme Court made it more difficult to buy weapons beforehand, and the Supreme Electoral Court banned bringing weapons into the polling stations. Like Bolsonaro, Gomes Freitas is not a fan of the Election Authority. The ex-policeman believes Bolsonaro's unproven allegations that she could use the voting machines to manipulate October's election.

After a thorough inspection of the bullet-riddled white silhouette, the 42-year-old declares his willingness to defend Brazil's "freedom" by force of arms if necessary. He cannot allow half a dozen judges to "decide the fate of our country against the will of the people," he says. The right to bear arms is therefore also a "guarantor of our freedom and the defense of our sovereignty against the internal enemy".

According to security expert Langeani, hardliners like Gomes Freitas who are willing to take up arms in the name of politics are in the minority in Brazil. But he warns that even a minority radicalized by conspiracy theories could cause great damage. He refers to the storming of the Capitol in Washington in January 2021.

According to the army, around 1,000 shooting clubs have been founded in Brazil since 2019. Among them is the Club Mil Armas (1000 Arms), where Gomes Freitas regularly holds his target practice sessions. The club is run by ex-policeman Marcelo Costa, his sons and his wife, who, as a psychologist, has received permission from the authorities to assess new members.

Interested parties can borrow weapons from the club - or buy them directly if they want. "It's like a mall, we have everything," says Marcelo Costa proudly. He even offers buyers interest-free installment payments for the models, which cost up to 3,880 euros.

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