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Brazil’s Bolsonaro tries new tactic to loosen gun laws

June 26, 2019
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a presidential decree signing ceremony that proposes to make it easier for authorities to sell goods seized from drug traffickers, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a presidential decree signing ceremony that proposes to make it easier for authorities to sell goods seized from drug traffickers, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — President Jair Bolsonaro has issued several new decrees to loosen Brazil’s strict gun laws, moving to rescue a signature campaign promise after the Senate rejected his earlier effort.

The series of edicts issued Tuesday night effectively canceled a May decree that eased access to firearms while at the same time reinstating many of the same controversial provisions that had sparked resistance from lawmakers.

Opposition congressman Marcelo Freixo tweeted that the president is trying to sidestep the legislative process following the defeat of his earlier decree in the Senate.

That decree had been scheduled to be voted on in the lower house of congress. If it had failed to pass there, it would have effectively been dead.

Bolsonaro, a far-right ex-army captain, promised during his winning presidential campaign to give “good citizens” access to guns as a means of dealing with rampant crime.

Critics worry that making guns easier to own could worsen Brazil’s high homicide levels. In 2017, 63,880 people were slain in Brazil, according the think-tank Brazilian Public Security Forum, making it the deadliest year in the country’s history.

Bruno Langeani from the non-governmental group Sou da Paz (“I am from peace”) said the president’s turn to new decrees is a last-minute effort to bail out that pledge.

“The president suffered a defeat in the Senate, and things were not looking good in congress. By canceling the decree and issuing new ones, he has effectively canceled the vote which was to take place today,” Langeani said Wednesday.

Bolsonaro’s May decree extended the types of calibers available to the public, gave prior authorization for a large number of professions to carry firearms in public, including truck drivers, lawyers, and politicians, and increased the quantity of ammunition individuals could purchase in a year.

That decree faced significant political and legal challenges. Bolsonaro released several amendments backing down on some of the more contentious points in a failed attempt to win support in congress.

Critics say the latest decrees still provide extended access to guns for citizens.

Robert Muggah, a security specialist and research director at the Igarapé Institute, said that despite Bolsonaro saying the changes address the concerns raised by opponents, they still retain most of the content of the original.

“This is a controversial political move from the Bolsonaro camp and could further polarize the country. It is also diverting attention away from stalled pension reform, the failure to launch a national security plan, and cuts to the education and environmental budgets,” said Muggah.

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