PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Starting in April, Brazil’s National Disarmament Campaign is expected to increase its mobilization by allowing citizens to turn in weapons and ammunition at collection points run by organizations from civil society, in addition to those already managed by police.
From May to December, 2011, the Brazilian government’s initiative has resulted in the collection of 36,834 firearms and 150,965 rounds of ammunition, as well as reward payments totaling R$3.5 million (US$2 million), according to the Ministry of Justice.
Since the program was introduced in 2004, 570,000 firearms have been taken out of circulation.
But widespread public participation is expected to occur in April, says Antônio Rangel Bandeira, a sociologist at the NGO Viva Rio and coordinator of the National Movement for Civil Disarmament.
Churches, Masonic lodges and NGOs across the country have become authorized as weapons collection points. The government is also studying the possibility of including the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), the Rotary Club and the Lions Club as collection points.
“Their participation greatly increases the number of collection points, making it easier for the public,” Bandeira says. “It also solves a longstanding problem – since a lot of people don’t trust the police, they’re afraid of turning in their firearms to them.”
Viva Rio was the first organization from civil society to be accredited.
The 2011/2012 campaign was launched in May 2011, with an official ceremony in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The launch took place about a month after the massacre at the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School, in the Realengo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, in which Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, 24, killed 12 children before taking his own life.
“Viva Rio is training police all over Brazil so that they can be allies in this process,” Bandeira says. “This is important because there were cases where they discouraged people from turning in their weapons.”
Viva Rio’s training of police officers is carried out through a partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the state ministries of public safety. Police in eight states have already received training.
For the current campaign, the Ministry of Justice is stressing all weapons turned in be destroyed in front of their previous owners at all collection sites.
“Only the NGOs were doing this, because they were afraid that drug traffickers would steal the weapons,” Bandeira says. “Now, the guidelines are for everyone immediately to destroy the weapons, which makes the process safer and prevents fraud.”
Viva Rio also suggests police collect weapons from people’s homes, which would facilitate participation by the elderly and the disabled.
“Firearms are useful for carrying out an attack,” Bandeira says. “When a person is being robbed, they’re taken by surprise and therefore aren’t prepared to use them. We need to encourage people to get rid of them.”
That’s what retired shopkeeper Carlos Ozi de Campos Pires, 66, did with a firearm he had purchased more than 40 years ago with the hope of being able to protect his family during a robbery.
At the end of 2011, he turned his .22 caliber pistol over to the Rio Grande do Sul Military Police and received R$100 (US$57.50).
“I found out about the campaign and took the opportunity to take the weight off my back,” Pires says. “When it’s all said and done, people buy guns for protection, but when danger strikes, you never know whether it’s going to make the situation better or worse.”
Depending on the condition of the firearm, individuals are eligible for rewards of R$100 (US$ 57.50), R$200 (US$115) or R$300 (US$172.50). Twenty-four hours after turning in the weapon, the reward can be withdrawn from any Banco do Brasil branch or ATM. The money must be retrieved within 30 days.
Experts differ on the effectiveness of the campaigns
Disarming the public reduces violence, Bandeira says. The Viva Rio sociologist counts more than 40 countries that have already successfully carried out disarmament campaigns.
“After our first campaign in 2004, the homicide rate decreased by about 5,000 people,” he says. “The countries that have been most effective in dealing with violence are those in which the civil society is unarmed.”
His view is shared by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, a sociologist and director of the Sangari Institute.
Waiselfisz says the United Nations advocates disarmament as one of the most important strategies for decreasing violence.
“It is a fundamental part of dealing with the epidemic of violence in Brazil,” he says.
There have been 1.1 million murders in Brazil over the last 30 years, according to the Ministry of Health’s Mortality Information System, cited in the 2012 Violence Map study carried out by the Sangari Institute.
Fifty thousand murders occurred in Brazil in 2010 – an average of 137 victims a day.
“The good news is that, beginning in 2005, the murder rate leveled off,” Waiselfisz says. “The bad news is that it leveled off at a high rate: 26 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.”
Based on the high rate of violent deaths in Brazil, University of Brasília (UnB) sociologist Antonio Testa says the results of the disarmament campaigns are “precarious.”
“They haven’t been able to remove the amount of weapons necessary to justify the money spent on advertising,” he says. “Violence in Brazil continues to grow exponentially.”
The Ministry of Justice didn’t release to Infosurhoy.com the figures invested in advertising the campaign. The only investment made public is that the government set aside R$9 million (US$5.18 million) in reward money for 2011 – of which R$3.5 million (US$2 million) was paid – and another R$9 million has been set aside for 2012.
Winning the wars against drug trafficking, corruption and white-collar crime are the most effective strategies against violence, Testa added.
“The last part is the most difficult, because nearly the entire state apparatus and all of its institutions, all three branches of government, are corrupt,” he says. “This tragic social reality of ours is the result of the degradation of human life, of drug use and of a breakdown of the family unit. In addition, young people lack prospects for the future.”