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More Legal Guns Reduced Crime in Brazil

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A pro-gun demonstration in support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasília, July 9, 2021.


sergio lima/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

‘Lives are on the line,” President Biden said after the Supreme Court held New York state’s restrictive gun-permit regime unconstitutional last week. Gov.

Kathy Hochul

warned: “This could place millions of New Yorkers in harm’s way.” Brazil’s experience suggests otherwise.

In 2018, the year before

Jair Bolsonaro

became president, Brazil had one of the highest homicide rates among developed countries: 27.8 per 100,000 people, compared with 5 per 100,000 in the U.S. Mr. Bolsonaro’s solution: “Give guns to good people. Let people have guns so that they have the chance to defend themselves.”

In Brazil black-market firearms are widely available to criminals, and 70% of murders in 2019 involved guns. When Mr. Bolsonaro took office, there were about 330,000 licensed firearm owners in Brazil. At the time, according to the BBC, “only strictly defined groups of people, including police and security officials are able to obtain a gun license.” In 2019, when Mr. Bolsonaro’s many changes began taking effect, Brazil added more than 400,000 licensed firearm owners.

During his presidential campaign, critics said he had it dangerously wrong. A Bloomberg Opinion writer scoffed: “It’s hard to buy the current proposals championed by gun lobbyists and a few political yahoos who aim to make Brazil safer by slackening controls.”

The New York Times

wrote in a news story that his proposals were “worrying some experts who argue that more guns fuel more violence.”

Brazil’s pre-2019 laws looked like the wish list of American gun-control advocates. Owning a gun without a license carries a four-year prison sentence. By comparison, almost no state in the U.S. requires a license to own a gun, and 25 states don’t require a license to carry a gun.

In Brazil aspiring gun owners have to be at least 25, undergo psychological and technical aptitude screening, show proof of employment, and explain why they want a firearm. Mr. Bolsonaro eliminated the psychological and other screening requirements.

By November 2021, Mr. Bolsonaro had made 32 changes to ease Brazil’s gun laws. Brazilians were allowed to own more and more-powerful guns—up to six guns and up to .50 caliber, the same maximum caliber as the U.S. He raised the maximum annual ammunition purchase to 5,000 rounds a year from 50. He made it easier to carry concealed handguns in public.

Before Mr. Bolsonaro, Brazilians had to pay $260 for a new gun license and $25 every three years to renew it. This put legal gun ownership out of reach of the poor. The initial license fee has fallen to around $18.50, and licenses are good for 10 years.

Instead of surging, crime declined sharply in Brazil. In three years under Mr. Bolsonaro, the homicide rate has fallen 34%, to 18.5 per 100,000.

The media and gun-control advocates were wrong about Brazil. Mr. Biden and Ms. Hochul should take note.

Mr. Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of “More Guns, Less Crime.”

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