Gun Violence in Brazil

A (tragic) parable:

A report on violence in Brazil says around 42,000 people were shot dead in 2012 – the highest figures for gun crime in 35 years.

The study, by the UN and the government on the most recent available data, said almost all the deaths were murders.

More than half of those killed were young men under the age of 30 – two-thirds were described as black.

The Brazilian Congress is debating a controversial bill that would limit access to firearms.

[…] The report says a slow justice system and flawed police investigations as well as the widespread availability of firearms are to blame.

It says Brazil has become a society which tolerates guns to resolve “all sorts of disputes, in most cases for very banal and circumstantial reasons.”

And the data gets even more depressing: 59% (24,882) of those 42,000 deaths are youths between 15 and 29, and the average totals out to 116 gun-related murders a day (or one every 12 minutes).

As always, the causes for this are complex. In Brazil, in addition to the increasing availability of guns in Brazil, the report also cites the notoriously slow justice system and the at-best problematic police forces as factors.

And there is a cultural issue at play here, too, one that may echo social and cultural patterns in other parts of the Americas in the 21st century. Javier Ayuero and Maria Fernanda Berti have recently argued that violence has become a routine “solution” in Argentina as well, an argument that seems to echo throughout other parts of Latin America in differing ways. This seems to be the case not just in Brazil, or even in much of Latin America, but in the western hemisphere more generally.

However, even with these broader cultural shifts, and the institutional challenges both the legal and police systems offer in Brazil, the fact remains that the proliferation of guns is at the heart of the issue. Reducing guns’ circulation will never get rid of gun violence entirely,but it would reduce the abruptness with which Brazilians, and particularly young Brazilians, could make brash, sudden, and ultimately lethal decisions as quickly or easily. And just to worsen matters, this report doesn’t seem to fully take into account all of the state-sponsored murders that occur through police violence.

Meanwhile, in more depressing gun-related news, after several years of a gang-truce, El Salvador is on course to having the highest murder rates in the hemisphere.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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