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Stray bullets and lost lives: the paradox of guns as an instrument of safety

Report examines data on firearm homicides in the last two decades and the recent public debate on social networks on the Disarmament Statute

5 months ago

•There is an increase in firearm homicide rates in proportion to the total number of homicides;

•Numbers show a migration of deaths by firearm from the Southeast region to the North and Northeast;

•The Statute of Disarmament was a fundamental mechanism for the reduction of firearm homicide growth rates. What could its flexibilization mean?

Decrees and directives edited by the Michel Temer[1] administration have been flexibilizing the rules for control of guns in Brazil established, largely, by Law 10,826/2003 — known as the Statute of Disarmament. At the same time, there are proceedings at the Chamber of Deputies[2] and the Federal Senate for proposals to completely revoke the Statute, under the argument that the problem of violence has not been solved and that the State should guarantee to citizens the right to defend themselves.

Considering this context, the center for Security and Citizenship at FGV/DAPP analyzed the data on firearm homicides from the past two decades and on the recent public debate in the social networks around the theme.

>>> Check the full version of the study in PDF

Deaths by firearms in Brazil

International reports frequently place Brazil inside the alarming group of countries with a record number of homicides. The report from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 listed the country as first in the homicide ranking, registering a little over 57 thousand in the year 2012. Using more recent data, from 2015, the Mexican NGO Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice identified 21 Brazilian cities among the 50 cities of more than 300 thousand inhabitants with the highest homicide rates in the world.

And firearms are the main culprit for most of the homicides of both men and women in Brazil. According to data from the Unified Health System (SIM/DATASUS), 56,792 people were murdered in Brazil in 2015; 71% of those by firearms. Globally, firearms are used in 41% of homicides (UNODC, 2013).

Graph 1 – Firearm aggressions resulting in death proportional to
the total number of aggressions resulting in death [3]

Source: SIM/DATASUS

Graph 1 shows only deaths considered by the Unified Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde – SUS) as aggressions — a category used as equivalent to homicides. It is possible to observe that, in this section of data, firearms are the mechanism responsible for most of the murders in the country.

It is important to notice the vital importance of the Statute of Disarmament to prevent this number from becoming even graver. While between 1997 and 2003 the absolute number of firearm homicides grew 6.8% a year on average, from 2004, when the law came into force, until 2015 (the most recent year available), the growth decreased to 1.9% a year.

Graph 2 – Deaths by firearm in proportion to the total
number of deaths due to external causes[4]

Source: SIM/DATASUS

Graph 1 does not take into account the total number of deaths by firearm. To understand the real impact of firearm circulation, it is necessary to also take into account those not considered homicides, such as deaths caused by accidental discharge, with undetermined intent, stray bullets and even suicides. To analyze this scenario, graph 2 shows the influence of firearms on the total number of deaths due to external causes, that is, unnatural deaths. It is important to notice that this graph includes, for example, traffic accidents — a statistic in which Brazil also stands out in a negative way. Still, firearms contribute excessively to the rise of this number.

Considering this critical scenario, strategies were adopted in the past decade to contain violent deaths in Brazil, and statistics from recent years show a relative stabilization of violent lethality in the country. However, recent numbers hide a great challenge to be faced: the migration of deaths by firearm in the country from the Southeast region to the North and the Northeast, with acute drops in absolute numbers in Rio de Janeiro (-49%) and in São Paulo (-42%) from 1996 to 2015 and significant rises in other states, such as Maranhão (+706%), Ceará (+706%) and Pará (+605%) in the same period.

Graph 3: Distribution of deaths by firearm in absolute numbers[5]

Source: SIM/DATASUS

Observing the evolution of the rates, corrected by state population per group of 100 thousand inhabitants, this migration becomes even clearer.

In the following graphs, it is possible to notice that the North, although representing a small percentage in absolute numbers, shows a strong increase during the 19 years analyzed, when population size is taken into consideration: in 1997, the region registered 10.61 deaths by firearm per 100 thousand inhabitants as opposed to 26.36 in 2015. This leap made the North move from the lowest rate in the country to the second highest, behind the Northeast. The Northeast moved from a rate of 14.78 deaths by firearm per 100 thousand inhabitants in 1997 to 33.61 in 2015. On the other hand, the Southeast saw its rate drop from 21.43 to 13.05 in almost two decades — moving from the top to the bottom of the ranking.

Graph 4 – Evolution of deaths by firearm rates per region per 100 thousand inhabitants[6]

Source: SIM/DATASUS

Analyzing the absolute data on deaths by firearm from the two most recent years available, it is possible to verify a significant increase in nine states, four of those from the North of the country. The state of Amazonas is one of them, moving from a 9% increase between 2013 and 2014 to 22% between 2014 and 2015. In addition, Tocantins was the state which registered the highest increase in homicides by firearms between 2014 and 2015: an increase of 56% as opposed to 13% in the previous biennium. Roraima and Pará had an increase of 29% and 7%, respectively, in the latest year of the period.

Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina registered an increase of 9% and 13%, respectively, in deaths by firearms between 2014 and 2015. On the other hand, the data points to a significant trend of decrease in all states from the Southeast region: Minas Gerais (-4%), Espírito Santo (-14%), Rio de Janeiro (-13%) and São Paulo (-12%). The Federal District was the federated unit which showed the highest reduction in deaths by firearm in the period: -24%.

Graph 5: Deaths by firearms per state in absolute numbers[7]

Source: SIM/DATASUS

The deaths by firearm are also extremely unequal in regards to the victims: in 2013, 94% were men, 58% young people between 15 and 29 years old and 68% black (which includes black and pardos). It is important to highlight that, according to the population projection by IBGE, the Brazilian population in 2013 was composed of 50.6% men, 25.7% young people between 15 and 29 years old and 51% black.

Graph 6: Deaths by firearm, according to skin color or race, in absolute numbers

Source: SIM/DATASUS

Social Networks

Following the publication of a directive on May 2 which put Temer’s decree into regulation, FGV/DAPP analyzed, over two weeks (between April 28 and May 11), the public debate about the theme on the social networks. Except for a brief peak of debate between Tuesday (09) and Wednesday (10), there was not a lot of discussion about the disarmament on Twitter, with a total of 22,600 references since April 28 and a stable daily volume of around 800 mentions — that is, in consonance with the average volumes on the subject.

Few important actors engaged with the theme within the scope of the networks. Curiously, the main participation was by “SportTV” channel journalist André Rizek, who manifested his opposition to the decree and obtained 1,190 retweets, far more than any other actor in terms of scope of influence. Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and his father, also a congressman, Jair Bolsonaro, who are favorable to gun carry by the citizens, were also constant references in the debate.

Temer’s office, which was the object of little cover by the press, did not interfere substantially on the debate. In fact, out of 22,600 mentions, only 8% highlighted the president, with the vast majority of the discussion focusing on opinions about the validity of gun carry, without ample ideas about the effects of the new legislation, except for Rizek.

In this context, an important sub theme is the amount of deaths by firearms in the country, especially posts referring to the deaths of police officers. On both sides of the discussion, this aspect is used as an argument for referendum/rejection of the disarmament, with emphasis also on the use of firearms as a way to avoid rapes. Sexual violence is seen by those favorable to gun carry on the social networks as potentially influenced by the inability of victims to have forms of defense.

The debate in the society remains, nevertheless, highly polarized between those who believe that it is a right of every citizen to carry guns as an answer to the growing insecurity in the country and those who defend the argument that more guns = more deaths.

Conclusion

The Statute of Disarmament was created aiming to reduce the number of firearms in circulation in the country, but did not resolve the issue of violence — and it would not have the capacity to do so. The endemic violence perpetrated by firearms in Brazil, in addition to the analyses pointing to a direct link between the number of deaths and the number of guns in circulation, lead to the necessity of recognizing weapon control in the legislation of the country, to strict border control, to more frequent disarmament campaigns, to changes in the rules of engagement by the police, to the articulation of a national public security policy, among other issues.

The argument that an increase of legal circulation of guns in the country would lead to an increase of public security is not supported by research on this issue. A study by IBCCrim shows that armed people are 56% more likely to die in a robbery than disarmed people, and an estimation by IPEA shows that an increase of 1% in firearms in circulation produces an increase of up to 2% in the number of deaths by this same instrument. The same relation is present in analyses of firearm violence in the United States — a country that has an extremely flexible law regarding gun ownership and carry by natural persons.

The flexibilization that is being approved by the federal government – or even the complete revocation of the Statute as suggested by the so called “bullet bench” (bancada da bala) — could have the opposite effect: generating an explosion of firearm violence, in a moment when the reduction of homicide growth rates achieved in the past decade is weakened, and shows worrying signs of regaining strength.

Still, it is also important to highlight that information on the legal commerce of guns in Brazil must be consolidated and accessible to the population, to allow for deeper and more accurate analyses about its impact on the national level. While analyzing information requests made through the Access to Information Act (Lei de Acesso à Informação), the team at FGV/DAPP found inconsistencies in the data provided for a number of themes, such as active registers, guns turned over voluntarily, gun sales, among others. The data will, therefore, be the focus of analyses in future research by the Division.


Notes

[1]Presidential decree 8,935/2016, from December, extends the renovation of the firearm license – and of the psychological test and of the certificate of criminal record – from three to every five years and the demonstration of ability to handle the equipment from three to every ten years. In addition, decree 8,938/2016, also from December and regulated by the directive of that month, liberates the destination of apprehended firearms to public security institutions and to the Military. Until then, the material used to be destroyed. The Ministry of Defense published a directive in March conceding transit rights to professional shooters, which allows them to travel to competition and training locations carrying loaded guns. Until then, it was only possible to travel with unloaded guns.

[2]In another front, there are proceedings at the Chamber of Deputies for bill 3722/2012, under report by congressman Laudivio Carvalho (SD-MG), which revokes the Statute of Disarmament. At the Senate, the revoking of the Statute is also the theme of Legislative Suggestion 4/2017 presented through the portal e-Citizenship (e-Cidadania), which is under proceedings at the Commission for Human Rights and Participative Legislation (CDH), under report by senator Paulo Rocha (PT-PA).

[3]Firearm aggressions resulting in death are placed on categories X93 to X95 of SIM/DATASUS. Aggressions resulting in death are placed on categories X85 to Y09 of SIM/DATASUS.

[4]Deaths due to external causes are the total number from the database “Deaths due to external causes” at SIM/DATASUS. Deaths by firearm are present in the following categories from CID-10, available at SIM/DATASUS: W33 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, W34 Discharge from other and unspecified firearms, X72 Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge, X74 Intentional self-harm by other and unspecified firearm discharge, X93 Assault by handgun discharge, X94 Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, X95 Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge, Y23 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, undetermined intent, Y24 Other and unspecified firearm discharge, undetermined intent.

[5]Graphs 3 and 4 are about deaths by firearm. Deaths by firearm are present in the following categories from CID-10, available at SIM/DATASUS: W33 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, W34 Discharge from other and unspecified firearms, X72 Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge, X74 Intentional self-harm by other and unspecified firearm discharge, X93 Assault by handgun discharge, X94 Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, X95 Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge, Y23 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, undetermined intent, Y24 Other and unspecified firearm discharge, undetermined intent.

[6]The rates were calculated from the population projection by IBGE. Graphs 3 and 4 are about deaths by firearm. Deaths by firearm are present in the following categories from CID-10, available at SIM/DATASUS: W33 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, W34 Discharge from other and unspecified firearms, X72 Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge, X74 Intentional self-harm by other and unspecified firearm discharge, X93 Assault by handgun discharge, X94 Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, X95 Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge, Y23 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, undetermined intent, Y24 Other and unspecified firearm discharge, undetermined intent.

[7]Deaths by firearm are present in the following categories from CID-10, available at SIM/DATASUS: W33 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, W34 Discharge from other and unspecified firearms, X72 Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge, X74 Intentional self-harm by other and unspecified firearm discharge, X93 Assault by handgun discharge, X94 Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, X95 Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge, Y23 Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, undetermined intent, Y24 Other and unspecified firearm discharge, undetermined intent.


Sources

IPEA study: Impacts of the Statute of Disarmament on the Personal Demand for Firearms http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/images/stories/PDFs/presi/130401_estudocompraarmas.pdf

IPEA study: Map of Firearms in the Micro Regions of Brazil http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/images/stories/PDFs/relatoriopesquisa/mapaarmas.pdf

Report “Stock and Distribution of Firearms in Brazil” 2010 (Federal Government): http://www.vivario.org.br/publique/media/Estoques_e_Distribui%C3%A7%C3%A3o.pdf

Preliminary Report Ranking of states in firearm control: Preliminary Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Data on Apprehended Firearms in Brazil http://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/upload/congresso/arquivo/mapa_das_armas_brasil.pdf

Hepburn, L.; Hemenway, D. Firearm availability and homicide: a review of the literature. Agression and violent behavior, v.9, n.4, pp. 417-440. 2004.

Map of violence 2016. Available in: http://www.mapadaviolencia.org.br/pdf2016/Mapa2016_armas_web.pdf

More guns equals more deaths, study finds. Available in:
http://www.livescience.com/39813-gun-ownership-increases-firearms-deaths.html

Guns don’t deter crimes, study finds. Available in:
http://www.livescience.com/51446-guns-do-not-deter-crime.html

“Without Congress approval, government edits norms that weaken gun control”. Available in:
https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/sem-passar-pelo-congresso-governo-edita-normas-que-enfraquecem-controle-de-armas-21307690

De Lima, R.; Sinhoretto, J.; Pietrocolla, L. Those who shoot also die: Risk of a person who owns a firearm to become the fatal victim of a robbery. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Criminais, n.29, pp. 365-373. 2000. Available in: https://s3.amazonaws.com/cdn.infografiaepoca.com.br/881-choque-de-realidade/Tambem-morre-quem-atira.pdf

WHO – Homicide Estimates by Country. Available in: http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.VIOLENCEHOMICIDEv

Pekny, A.C.; Langeani, B.; Angeli, F.; Marques, I.; Morin, S. Gun Control in Brazil: the path to follow. Análise, n.12. 2015

UNOCD. Global Study on Homicide 2013: trends, context, data. 2014. 166p.


FGV/DAPP

Director

Marco Aurelio Ruediger

Team

Carolina Taboada
Maria Isabel Couto
Lucas Calil
Thais Lobo
Janaína Fernandes
Rachel Bastos
Andressa Contarato

Translator

Lucas Maciel Peixoto