- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians yesterday soundly rejected a proposal to ban guns in a national referendum, after a fiercely contested campaign that drew comparisons to the debate over gun control in the United States.

With more than 92 percent of the votes counted, 64 percent of Brazilians were opposed to the ban, while 36 percent backed the proposal aimed at stemming one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, but a staggering 25 percent more gun deaths at 40,000 a year. While both sides in the debate agree that violence is excessive, opponents of the gun ban gained support in recent weeks by playing on Brazilians’ fears that the police can’t protect them.

“I don’t like people walking around armed on the street. But since all the bandits have guns, you need to have a gun at home,” said taxi driver Mohammed Osei, who voted against the ban.

More than 120 million Brazilians were expected to cast ballots. Voting is mandatory for citizens between the ages of 18 and 70, but Brazilians as young as 16 can vote. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva voted early in a public school in suburban Sao Paulo. He told reporters he voted in favor of the ban.

If the referendum had passed, the sale of firearms and ammunition would have been prohibited except for police, the military, some security guards, gun collectors and sports shooters. It would have complemented a 2003 law that sharply restricts who can legally purchase firearms and carry guns in the street.

That law, coupled with a government-sponsored gun-buyback program, has reduced deaths from firearms by about 8 percent this year, the Health Ministry said.

Earlier this year, support for the ban was running as high as 80 percent. But in the weeks before the referendum, both sides were granted free time to present their cases on prime-time TV, and the pro-gun forces began to grow.

“They ask the question: ‘Do you feel protected and do you think the government is protecting you?’ and the answer is a violent ‘no,’” said political scientist David Fleischer of the University of Brasilia.

Some Brazilians said they resented the referendum because they feel the government is ducking its responsibility to keep the peace.

“It’s immoral for the government to have this vote,” said Pedro Ricardo, an army officer in Sao Paulo. “They’re putting the responsibility on us, but … the way to cut down on violence is to combat the drug trade and patrol our borders.”

The combination of Brazil’s high gun-death rate and the nature of the debate over the right to gun ownership has drawn parallels to the gun debate in the United States.

“Their whole campaign [against the ban] was imported from the United States. … Now, a lot of Brazilians are insisting on their right to bear arms, [even though] it’s not in their constitution,” said Jessica Galeria, an American who researches gun violence with the Viva Rio think tank.

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