Brazil: More Guns, Less Crime

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

On any given day, you might not need a gun. But if you need one, nothing else will do the job. My colleague Jeff Charles, in these virtual pages, has presented many incidents of successful self-defense by legal gun owners, and I’m sure he will chronicle many more such events.

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Now Brazil is learning this lesson as well.

Brazilian researchers say the number of violent deaths last year reached the lowest level in more than a decade, puzzling some experts because there has been an explosion of firearms circulating in the country in recent years.

About 47,500 people were slain in Latin America’s largest nation in 2022, said a report Thursday by the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent group that tracks crimes. Its statistics are widely used as a benchmark because there are no official statistics on a national level.

While the number of killings in 2022 was down 2.4% from the previous year, it remained roughly even with levels recorded since 2019. The last time Brazil had less violent deaths was in 2011, with 47,215 killings.

The fall in homicides has left many public security experts somewhat puzzled, as it has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of firearms held by Brazilians. Some studies have suggested that more guns circulating among the population lead to more homicides.

During his 2019-2022 term, then President Jair Bolsonaro worked to loosen regulations on gun ownership. The number of firearms registered with the Federal Police reached 1.5 million in 2022, up 47.5% from 2019.

Brazil is still a violent place.

“Although homicides have not increased, the percentage of deaths by firearms in Brazil is still very high,” she said. According to Thursday’s report, firearms were responsible for 77% of all homicides last year. Ricardo said that is much higher than the world average of around 44%.

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Brazil’s new leftist President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is now working to undo President Bolsonaro’s loosening of gun laws. This should serve as an interesting test on the theory that more guns = less crime, and the author of a book by that name, Dr. John Lott, is now putting his money where his mouth is on what will happen in Brazil now.

In December, Johns Hopkins University professor Dan Webster said in an article published in the Washington Post that in Brazil, “every 1 percent increase in firearm ownership is associated with a 0.6 percent increase in overall homicide rates.”

John Lott, an economist and academic who leads the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) – which for years has researched and argued that an increase in firearm ownership does not mean higher crime rates – read Webster’s December comment and said it partially motivated him to embark on a betting challenge with fellow gun and crime researchers.

“How could somebody with a straight face go and tell the Washington Post this is what he believes the relationship is,” Lott told Fox News Digital. “Nobody calls him on it. It was kind of what I finally saw his statement in the Washington Post, that’s what kind of got me to go and offer people the bets.”

Lott said he reached out to 12 academics in the U.S. earlier this year with a proposal: A $1,000 bet on whether the homicide rate would increase in Brazil under Lula and his administration’s gun ownership crackdown.

“Here is what I offer you. Let’s bet $1,000 and make it simple on whether the homicide rate in Brazil will go up or down during the first two years of Lula’s presidency. If the homicide rate goes down from what it was in 2022, I will pay you $1,000. If it goes up, you will pay me $1,000,” Lott wrote in his emails to fellow academics, which were provided to Fox News Digital.

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Based on similar trends in other places and on the trend in Brazil during the Bolsonaro Presidency, one would suspect Dr. Lott will be proven right.

Comparing trends from nation to nation is always tricky. It’s common for American anti-gunners to compare our country with Japan, where gun ownership is tightly restricted, and crime rates are generally low. But that’s a canard; Japan is culturally very, very different than the United States in that it is a culturally and ethnically homogeneous nation with a long history of respect, politeness, and obedience to authority, whereas Americans are an ethnically and culturally diverse people with a long history of fractiousness; we are a country that was born in violent revolution, and different cohorts of our citizenry have been squabbling ever since.

While this trend in Brazil is interesting, and while seeing what happens next is going to be revealing, it’s not the strongest argument American gun owners have for retaining our right to bear arms. Brazil has a long history of being a dangerous, high-crime place. It’s on the other end of the spectrum from Japan, and comparisons to either place aren’t that telling for Americans. Our strongest argument, as always, is the Constitution; it’s one advantage we have that is present nowhere else in the world.

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On any given day, you might not need a gun. But if you need one, nothing else will do the job. Our fight to retain the right to have a gun when we need one will go on, regardless of what happens in Brazil.

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