Gun Laws in Brazil, a First-hand Account
PT-BR O artigo que segue, em inglês, sobre minha experiência em comprar minha primeira arma de fogo foi escrito para ser publicado num fórum estrangeiro sobre armas de fogo a pedido de um terceiro. Como isso nunca aconteceu, estou disponibilizando aqui, só para que todos esses bytes não morram inúteis.
EN The following article about my experience in purchasing my first handgun was intended to be published in a handgun forum, by request of a third party. Since this never happened, I am publishing it here, just so all these bytes donʼt die. Please forgive my written English, as it is not my first language.
Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer. What follows is my understanding of the current legislation in Brazil regarding firearms ownership, transportation and commerce, and my limited experience in going through the processes of becoming a shooter and acquiring my first handgun.
Brazilʼs gun liberties have been declining since the early 1990ʼs, while Fernando Henrique Cardosoʼs was president. Before this time, you could buy handguns, shotguns and rifles in stores and walk out with your purchase. In 2005, under former president Lulaʼs government, a referendum was held in which the people were asked to vote if “the commerce of firearms and ammunition should be prohibited in Brazil”. Over 59 million people voted “no” to this question (63.94%), hoping to preserve our rights to buy and keep guns, albeit still under strict government control.
In spite of the overwhelming popular demand that these rights should be kept, it is nearly impossible; if not ridiculously expensive, bureaucratic and a seemingly endless process to be a gun owner in Brazil.
There are two legal paths to own a gun here: via the Federal Police (similar to the United Statesʼ FBI), for self- and home-defense; and via the Army, intended for hunters, shooters and collectors. In theory, a shooterʼs firearm may not be used for defense, and vice-versa. All weapons are registered. Carrying is not allowed (except in the rarest of circumstances). Ammunition sales are controlled and there is only one domestic manufacturer (CBC). There are strict limits on how much ammo anyone who owns a gun may purchase. There are limits on how many guns one may own. There are permitted and forbidden calibers. There is a huge monopoly by domestic gun and ammo manufacturers that hinders other companies from entering the country. And last, but not least, there is a massive media campaign against all gun-related culture.
Defensive Firearms (SINARM)
If you choose the defensive gun route, through the Federal Police (controlled by the Ministry of Justice), you must meet several criteria to be allowed to purchase a firearm:
- You must be at least 25 years-old;
- You must have fixed-residence and legal occupation;
- You must be certified psychologically apt;
- You must prove you can technically handle a gun;
- You must not have a criminal record.
You will need to pay many fees along the way and present several pieces of documentation to prove all of the above.
You will also need a document called a “Declaration of Necessity”, in which you must describe in detail what you want a weapon for. Now this is where it gets tricky. It is a subjective piece of text that you must write explaining to a government official why he should allow you to be a gun owner. In a country where there are over 50 thousand murders per year (according to 2015 statistics), proving you live in Brazil should be more than enough reason for anyone, in their right mind, to not question the motives of a law-abiding citizen who wishes to own a gun. It is not so, unfortunately.
If you manage to convince this official, and are able to purchase your firearm, having it registered in the policeʼs “SINARM” system, you may not carry it outside of your home, or business (you must choose one). You cannot transport it from one to the other. There are ridiculously rare cases of carry-permits for citizens who are not police officers, military personnel or judiciary workers, but, suffice it to say, they are rare! You will also be allowed to purchase a maximum of 50 cartridges per year. You must require a special permit to take your gun to the range, if you would like to practice with any of those 50 cartridges, and have good chances of being denied. Your permit will be valid for five years. When it expires, you have to go through the whole process once more. And it is not uncommon for renewals to be denied, leaving the owner with an illegal firearm, and making this person a felon; unless he/she surrenders his/her gun to the proper authorities.
Allowed calibers are, at most:
- .380 ACP for pistols;
- .38 SPL for revolvers;
- 12GA for shotguns with a minimum barrel length of 610mm (24 in.);
- .44-40 WCF for carbines and rifles.
Sporting Firearms (SIGMA)
The arbitrary nature of the defensive firearm acquisition route has lead many gun enthusiasts to pursue an alternative means of owning a gun. The other means of legally owning a firearm in Brazil is through the Army (a branch of the Ministry of Defense), meant for sports shooters, hunters and collectors. The same five requirements mentioned before apply, plus you must be a member of a Shooting Club or Federation.
One of the advantages of choosing the SIGMA route is that there is no arbitrary step. You either meet the requirements, or you donʼt. You will also have more caliber options (although beginners will have a hard time getting anything larger than the SINARM permitted calibers listed above), up to:
- .454 for pistols;
- .500 for revolvers;
- 12 gauge for shotguns;
- .458 for rifles.
The following are exceptions and may not be purchased:
- Caliber 5.7 x 28 mm;
- Caliber 5.56 x 45 mm and .223 Remington;
- Anything full-auto.
Up until August 2016, 9 x 19 mm caliber was also restricted to armed forces only.
SIGMA gun owners may purchase up to four thousand cartridges of ammunition per year, except .22 LR or .22 SHORT, which tops out at ten thousand. You are also allowed to own up to four firearms, two of which can be of “restricted” calibers (above the SINARM’s allowed calibers). As the shooter progresses in competitions and gains seniority, these quantities are increased.
As a shooter, you are given a permit to transport each of your your weapons. They must remain unloaded and separated from their ammunition – your weapon may not and should not be used for defense (although some recent sentences have ruled in favor of the shooter in cases like this).
You will need to purchase a gun safe and most likely add security measures to the room where you store your guns, such as bars over windows and deadbolts on doors. Guns in permitted calibers take around four months to have a permit processed through the Army, given no other restrictions apply. Restricted calibers depend on industry stock and extra processes, and may take up to 18 months. Expiration dates on permits are usually five years.
Collectors are not allowed to have live ammunition, but there are less restrictions on calibers and quantities of weapons. Hunters follow similar rules as shooters, but there are severe restrictions on what game you may hunt and youʼll need other government agency permits. In a recent change in the rules in my state, there is now a list of ten weapons a collector may have. That’s it. 10 options you’re allowed to collect.
Brazilian Gun Industry
Taurus and the CBC Group
There used to be a Beretta plant here, which was acquired by Taurus in 1980. There are talks that Caracal is about to start manufacturing here as well. There have been some attempts to bring other manufacturers to Brazil, including a SIG Sauer line, but they all failed.
Rossi firearms used to be big as well. It is now also part of the CBC group (which also owns Taurus). They only produce lever action rifles for the local market now.
Taurusʼ pistol production destined to the local market is considered by many people second class. There are many reports of their pistols failing and hurting or killing police officers. Their revolvers are considered good, however.
Taurus, part of the CBC group, has strong lobbying power in the local government and Armed Forces. It is reported that they pressure legislators to make it extremely difficult for other manufacturers to enter the Brazilian market, thus creating a monopoly. There are regulations, for instance, that state “if there are domestic equivalents available domestically, items may not be imported for public use” (paraphrasing) and only individuals may import certain weapons, meaning stores are not allowed to have stock of imported guns for individuals to look at and try before buying.
Imbel makes durable and reportedly reliable pistols based on the M1911 design by John Browning. There are several barrel lengths and calibers available, including .380 ACP all the way to the .45 ACP. Double- and single-stack versions are available for most calibers as well.
It is a state-controlled industry, that has reportedly outdated machinery and has a very hard time keeping up with demand.
Ammo is only available through CBC. There are no options, other than importing small quantities, which is both expensive and a long process. Because of this monopoly, ammo is very expensive. So much so, that it is often sold in packs of 10:
As of 2016, one pack like the one pictured (.380 hollow point) cost me about US$ 55. That’s $ 5.50 per round of .380 ACP ammo. Registered SIGMA shooters have the option of buying directly from the industry, in which case the cost per round of the same type of ammo is about $ 0.92.
The obvious way around this is to reload your ammo. But this proves difficult because of ever-increasing restrictive legislation and high cost of reloading equipment and inputs (powder, primers, bullets, etc.). And all of these items are strictly controlled and time-consuming to get permits for.
What the Future Holds
There are few but fierce legislators fighting for the peopleʼs rights to own and carry arms. Some laws are under way to be voted to revoke what is being called the “Disarmament Statute”, but there are many interests in the opposite direction, as well.
As seen many times over in history, nothing good comes from disarming citizens. The first and most obvious consequence is that guns are taken from law-abiding citizens. Criminals never voluntarily give up their weapons. This tends to tip the scales in favor of crime, as can be seen in murder rates which have been on the rise despite the massive government campaign to disarm the people. In a country as large as Brazil, with so many miles of borders, gun-trafficking is rather common. This leads to heavily armed militias associated with drug-traffickers in the poorer suburbs, carrying fully-automatic rifles and anti-materiel weapons, while the average Joe is not allowed to carry a .38 SPL revolver. And this extends to the police forces as well. Usually limited to .40 S&W pistols, it is cruel to expect them to faced militia armed with automatic rifles.
The Brazilian Armed Forces also seems to be largely in favor of disarming shooters, collectors and hunters by pushing ever more restrictive regulations, making all paperwork more bureaucratic and extending waiting and processing times as much as they possibly can. Their motives are suspicious, at best.
It seems that citizens are getting tired of being victims, however. There appears to be a growing interest in guns again, and more people are pressuring elected officials towards less restrictive gun laws. There is hope for a better future. Always.
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