A Brazilian man plays the guitar and sings in favour of legalised gun sales along Atlantica Avenue on the Copacabana beach front in Rio de Janeiro, on Sunday. - REUTERS
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP):
STUNNED BY the crushing defeat of a referendum to ban the sale of firearms in Brazil, gun control advocates yesterday blamed a lack of public safety and government corruption.
On Sunday, more than 120 million Brazilians were asked: "Should the commerce of small arms and ammunition be prohibited?" With 99.85 per cent of the votes counted, 63.92 per cent of Brazilians voted 'no', while 36.08 per cent voted 'yes'.
"The 'no' vote managed to capitalise (on) dissatisfactions which are growing, with good reasons, in Brazilian society - with government, with public institutions, with public security, with the social conditions," said Rubem Cesar Fernandes, director of the Viva Rio think tank which campaigned heavily in favour of the ban. "It became a 'no' against it all."
Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, but a staggering 25 per cent more gun deaths at nearly 40,000 a year - making it the country with the second highest rate of firearm-related deaths in the world after Venezuela.
While supporters argued that gun control was the best way to stem the violence, opponents deftly played on Brazilians' fears that the police can't protect them.
"I voted 'no' because I don't think it (the ban) will change much and because there's too much corruption and the government wants to dump the problem of disarming on us," said Angela Maria Vicente, a 26-year-old food service worker.
The "no" supporters used those fears and nationalistic appeals to Brazil's sovereignty to create a broad coalition of the political right and the left, as well as the country's rich and poor.
"The population understood perfectly that it should not give up its right (to bear arms)," Rep. Luiz Antonio Fleury, a coordinator of the 'no' campaign, told reporters following the vote.
Many also saw the "no" vote as a protest against the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who openly backed the proposed ban. Silva's popularity has sunk as his government has been accused of illegal campaign financing and vote-buying in Congress.
"It was very bad for us to have this vote at a time when the government is very discredited. A lot of people thought the referendum was invented by the government to distract attention from the scandal," said Antonio Rangel, the coordinator of Viva Rio's disarmament campaign.
Brazil decided two years ago to have a referendum as the last phase of its disarmament statute, which imposed tough restrictions on who can purchase and carry firearms.
Those restrictions plus a government-sponsored gun buyback program appeared to have reduced the number of firearms deaths by 8 percent last year, according to the Health Ministry.
But analysts said that Brazil's problems with crime and violence run deeper than gun control and require large-scale investments and reform of the country's judiciary and police.
"The results of the referendum are zero. If 'yes' won or 'no' won there would be no difference," said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia. "The referendum was important because the people spoke out and spoke out very strongly that they want more security. Unfortunately they're not going to get it this year or next."