Brazil: Judge gives Bolsonaro ultimatum to clarify gun decree
President’s executive order gives millions the right to carry firearms, but opponents slam the move as ‘abuse of power’.
A Brazilian supreme court judge has given President Jair Bolsonaro and his justice ministry five days to respond to criticism that a recently signed gun decree has violated the country’s constitution.
The May 7 presidential order would grant millions of citizens the right to carry loaded weapons in public.
The directive from Justice Rosa Weber on Friday came after an opposition political party filed a petition with the Supreme Federal Tribunal court arguing the order, which is due to take effect in early June, was “an abuse of regulatory power”.
The Sustainability Network party said it was up to Brazil’s Congress to legislate on the possession of firearms, according to a copy of the court documents.
The petition also said the decree “contravened the spirit” of a 2003 disarmament statute, which prohibits citizens from carrying weapons in public and sets out other restrictions on weapon use.
Bolsonaro has long opposed that statute and was part of the so-called “bullet caucus” when he served in Congress.
His executive order loosened rules so that Brazilians could own up to four guns and would allow tax collectors, bus drivers, elected officials, lawyers and journalists, among others, to carry loaded guns in public without authorisation from the federal police.
The decree also eased restrictions on gun imports and increased the amount of ammunition a person could buy, raising the yearly limit on purchases from 50 to 5,000 cartridges for permitted weapons and up to 1,000 cartridges for use in restricted weapons.
‘More weapons, more deaths’
Bolsonaro, who swept to power in a highly divisive October election on a law-and-order platform that included easing restrictions on guns, on Wednesday called the order “another step towards freedom and individual rights in our nation”.
In an apparent change of tack on Friday, the 64-year-old former army captain said that if the decree was deemed unconstitutional it should cease to exist, The Associated Press news agency reported.
Hours later, however, he told a crowd in the southeasterly state of Parana that his administration would “not [be] retreating in front of those that since forever have said they are security experts”.
“The life of a good citizen has no price,” Bolsonaro said.
He has previously said that more guns will reduce violence in Brazil.
Critics, meanwhile, have been quick to denounce the new decree, arguing it could fuel an increase in violence in the world’s murder capital.
Ilona Szabo de Carvalho, executive director of the Igarape Institute, a Rio de Janeiro-based think-tank, said the order was detrimental to the “protection of society as a whole”.
“We know that the more weapons in circulation, the more deaths from firearms,” de Carvalho told Brazil’s Globo news.
“Nowhere in our constitution is it stated that we have a right to guns, it says we have a right to public security,” she added.
In 2017, 63,880 homicides were recorded throughout Brazil, making it the deadliest year in the country’s history, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security. Nearly 45,000 of those cases involved firearms.