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Opinion and Editorial

Of arms and men

Filed on October 26, 2005

IT IS unfortunate that Brazil voters have rejected the sensible and much needed ban on gun sales. About 64 per cent people voted against and 36 per cent in favour of the ban in a referendum held on Sunday. The referendum results do not really come as a surprise though since most opinion polls ahead of the vote had predicted a defeat for the government proposal.

Yet it is hard to justify the overwhelming opposition to gun sales ban. It only goes to show that majority is not necessarily always right.

But there could be more to this vote against the gun ban than meets the eye. It is believed that it is not so much as the Brazilian voters’ belief in the so-called right to own guns but their opposition to the extremely unpopular government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and its policies that could have undermined the proposed ban. If that’s the case, it is all the more unfortunate that in their attempt to discipline the government the Brazilian people have ended up hurting themselves.

For the ban on gun sales could have made Brazil a more peaceful and safe country for its people. Even Brazilians know that if any country today needs a gun ban, it is their country. With 107 gun-related killings a day, the South American nation remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

The statistics, provided by the UN, are most damning. More than 500,000 people were murdered in Brazil between 1979 and 2003. There are more than 17 million firearms in Brazil, of which nine million are not registered. About 36,000 Brazilians are killed every year by firearms —more than cancer or traffic accidents. This is why it is such a tragedy that the voters, despite being aware of these facts, chose to reject the ban.

The Sunday referendum was held to ratify a clause in the 2003 statute of disarmament. The statute made it harder for the people to buy arms and imposed a virtual ban on carrying them. There was a sharp reduction in gun-related deaths following the introduction of the statute, and the proposed ban had wide support from human rights groups and the clergy before campaigning on the referendum began.

It is possible that the voters may have been swayed by the powerful gun lobby that played on people’s fears and insecurities by projecting the possession of guns as something of an assurance against criminal elements. As in the US, the gun manufacturers’ lobby in Brazil is extremely powerful and can make or break governments. But as the experience in US bears out weapons do not offer any security to their owners. They invariably lead to more weapons —and more bloodshed and crime.

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