President Seeks Stricter Punishment for Firearms Possession
In an attempt to stem the flow of violent drug-related deaths in Brazil, President Michel Temer approved a law last month that classifies the carrying of firearms as a “heinous crime”. Such classification increases the jail time for those caught with illegal weapons.
The current punishment for possession of illegal firearms is a fine or a couple of days in jail, punishments that are hardly prohibitive.
The weapons that are now illegal are rifles, machine guns, and a variety of pistols. Members of the country’s Armed Forces are the only individuals authorized to carry such weapons.
Brazil has long been the center of attention for its high number of violent deaths. Citizens’ Council for Public Security’s 2016 ranking of the most violent cities in the world lists 43 cities in Latin America with 19 of them in Brazil. Drug-related murders make up the lion’s share of violent crimes in Brazil.
Violence in Rio de Janeiro has been made famous by internationally lauded Brazilian films such as City of God and Elite Squad, both of which depict the guerilla-warfare between the drug-related gangs in the favelas and the city’s police.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, as gangs established their power in Rio’s 700 favelas, the police’s only strategy to control the gangs was with firepower. In 2008, a community policing program based on models that were successful in cities like Los Angeles and Medellin was established. The program inserted 9,500 officers in 37 favelas.
The program worked for a while, with police-related deaths falling between 2007 and 2013. But the economic crisis sapped government programs, including policing. Some officers have not been paid in months and even the most basic resources – like fuel for police cars – are not available. As the economic crisis hit, Rio started to see a breakdown in such programs and the gang and drug trafficker presence began to increase again.
As a result, the gangs returned. In fact, they have now gone from a position of defense to one of offense with 81 Rio police officers being killed between January and June of this year. During this same period, 324 rifles, 22 submachine guns, 2063 pistols, and 2049 revolvers were seized in the state of Rio.
Temer’s law calling for tougher sentences for weapons possession is an attempt to stem the violence spreading across the country. The question, however, is whether it will do enough to make a difference.