Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Brazil puts in place stricter gun laws to reduce killings


Brazil's government enacted tougher gun control laws on Friday to halt what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called a "an epidemic of murders by firearms."

The new rules prohibit possession of firearms in public places such as sports arenas, churches, government buildings and schools. They raise the minimum age for gun ownership from 18 years to 25 years and require gun owners to register their weapons with both the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry.

Congress passed the gun-control law, giving Silva powers to adopt restrictions on firearms, in December. The new rules didn't go into effect until Silva published them on Friday.

"Every 12 minutes, someone is murdered [by gunfire] in Brazil ... an epidemic of murders by firearms is hitting chiefly at Brazilian youth," Silva said in a speech to Congress in December when it passed the bill.

The rules also create a program in which the government will buy firearms from citizens as an incentive to disarm them. However, Congress hasn't yet approved funding, which is expected to be about US$3.5 million, and officials haven't yet decided how much to pay for each weapon.

Silva has said he favors a ban on gun purchases and possession. Brazilians will vote on a proposed ban in a referendum in next year.

In 2000, the most recent year for which figures were available, 31,378 of 45,919 reported homicides were committed with guns, the UN said.

The London-based International Action Network on Small Arms ranks Brazil fifth after Colombia, South Africa, El Salvador and Lesotho at 21.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. It cited the latest available UN figures on death rates by firearms covering 2002.

Skeptics, including many in government, have called the new law well-intentioned but unlikely to alter crime statistics in a country where it is easy to buy firearms illegally.

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