Brazilian firearms and ammunition referendum, 2005

Brazilian firearms and ammunition referendum, 2005

On October 23, 2005 Brazil held a country-wide referendum on article 35 of the Disarmament Statute. The possible outcome was either an approval or disapproval of the article, which states in full : "The sale of firearms and ammunition is prohibited in the entire national territory, except to those entities provided in article 6 of this Law". The referendum failed by nearly ⅔ and that part of the statute was not enacted.

The referendum and its date had been provided for by the Disarmament Statute itself. During the drafting and development of the law, it had been decided that article 35 should be submitted to a referendum because of the importance of its subject. On July 7, 2005, the Federal Senate of Brazil promulgated legislative decree 780, which authorized the referendum. Article 2 of its decree stipulated that the public consultation should employ the following question: "Should commerce in firearms and ammunition be prohibited in Brazil?" ("O comércio de armas de fogo e munição deve ser proibido no Brasil?"). Voters could choose to answer this question "yes" or "no", could leave the ballot blank, or could invalidate their votes.

Among the world's countries, Brazil has the second largest number of people murdered annually by firearms, second to Venezuela. Each year about 39,000 people in Brazil are shot to death. However, worldwide statistics do not show unambiguously whether this number would be reduced by the prohibition of the sale of firearms and ammunition.


The referendum took place much as a normal Brazilian legislative or executive election would. Citizens voted in their respective electoral districts by electronic ballot.

Voting was obligatory for those over 18 and optional for those voters between 16 and 18 or over 70. Voters had to vote within their districts, unlike the 1993 referendum. Anyone who was outside their district on the day of the referendum had to justify themselves with a Petition for Electoral Justification and submit it at their nearest polling station. Citizens abroad were not allowed to vote. Violators would be assessed a fine of about R$4.00).

The usual prohibition of campaigning on the day of the election was in effect. In addition, some states of Brazil ban the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the day.


The final electoral results were roughly as projected by surveys conducted by the principal Brazilian research institutions in the week before the referendum. While IBOPE predicted a victory for "no" with 55% of the vote against 45%, Datafolha projected that the result would be 57% to 43%. Both surveys had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.



Results by Region

Arguments and views

Like other referendums and plebiscites, this referendum dealt with a highly controversial subject which evoked a variety of opinions and arguments on both sides. The arguments listed below were advanced during the debate and are presented here without independent verification of the statistics employed.


The following arguments are based on the right of self-defense of the law-abiding citizen:

* The ban would create an increase in demand for guns (arms trafficking) among those who wanted to carry a gun for whatever reason (whether for criminal purposes or for legitimate self-defense).
* Even recognizing the possibility that an armed response to a robbery may turn out badly (an argument used in support of disarmament), there is still a chance that the armed response will succeed; this possibility, according to opponents of disarmament, is sufficient to discourage someone from committing a robbery in consideration of this risk.
* Criminals would feel more confident knowing that the population was disarmed.
* It was also argued that some people "need" guns to defend themselves, such as people threatened with death, retired police, rural land owners, etc.
* The ban would provide advantages to foreign arms manufacturers, competitors of the domestic industry which exports most of its production to the foreign market.
* The disarmament campaign has the support of enormous overseas NGOs. The main campaign for disarmament, the Viva Rio foundation, receives financial support from the Ford Foundation, from the United Nations, from the Soros Foundation and from the British government.
* Citizens may have the right not to want a gun, but may not be able to lose the right to have one.

The following arguments are based on criticism of the State:

* The Brazilian government has not been able to provide the public safety required by the Constitution of Brazil.
* In much of Brazil, there is no effective control over guns that are manufactured in other countries, especially neighboring countries.
* Since the bureaucracy and taxes are already so great, it is easier for a criminal to choose the faster and cheaper method of obtaining an illegal (and often imported) gun. Currently, a citizen who wants to carry a gun is subject to rigorous psychological tests.
* It was argued that, if the referendum resulted in the collapse of the Brazilian arms industry, an increased dependency on foreign economies would result, along with an increased need to import weapons for national defense.

The following statistics were provided in support of this view:

* Numbers that indicate that the great majority of crimes are committed with illegally-possessed guns;
* Numbers that show that the Brazilian state (Rio Grande do Sul) that has the largest number of legal firearms nonetheless possesses the lowest rate of crimes committed by means of guns. The same thing occurs in some countries in the first world. Based on this, it was argued that crime is a problem with roots in education and family issues, and not a result of guns "per se".


* Guns are tools whose only purpose is killing, and so they inevitably generate violence.
* In the medium to long term, some supporters of the referendum hoped for an end to all guns in the country.
* Under the referendum, only those within certain exceptions (police, military, private security agencies, etc.) would be able to have legal access to guns; however, those threatened can request special protection from the government.
* Statistics show that most crimes are committed for pointless reasons. Therefore, with a gun, hotheadedness or recklessness may easily cause a citizen to irrationally use his firearm.
* The statistics concerning guns confiscated by the police show that a third of illegally-possessed guns have a legal Brazilian origin. Most of these are low caliber and either unregistered or stolen.
* A robber has the benefit of surprise. An armed citizen has a very limited chance of responding successfully with a gun and surviving. The Brazilian authorities recommend that people should not resist to a robbery since, according to studies and press accounts, a robber will simply shoot to kill when a threatened person resists (flees, shouts, fires, etc.).
* Material goods can be replaced (especially if they are insured). A life cannot be replaced and the pain of loss and the guilt of becoming a killer cannot be erased through yet another death.
* Civilian firearms training does not prepare people for realistic combat situations (a kind of preparation which is only available to the military).
* The resistance of the most conservative sectors of society, especially in rural areas, to limiting the actions of militias created to defend their lands.
* The national arms industry wouldn't be eliminated by the ban because this industry manufactures weapons besides revolvers and pistols. Also, the prohibition on the sale of guns is only applicable to domestic sales. If the domestic arms industry depended on the domestic market, it would already have failed. The main customers of the arms industry are the Brazilian armed forces and auxiliary forces, which are not affected by the ban, and export markets would still remain available.
* The support of the munitions industries for representatives who had defended controversial actions such as the closing of the National Congress. The two main manufacturers of guns gave R$1.1 million to electoral campaigns in 2002.

Other considerations

*Some people argued that the policy of providing incentives for turning in guns voluntarily to be destroyed could interfere with historical research, which might involve the analysis of the armaments that had been used in various historical periods.
*Other people considered the disarmament policy irrelevant, considering that it would neither produce a decrease nor an increase in violence.
*The disarmament question, for some, presented a test of the limits of the constitutional principles such as the right to life, to safety, to property, and the social function of these.
*Some people were afraid of either possible result: if the "yes" option won, people would be emboldening the robbers because they wouldn't expect anyone to have a gun; if the "no" option won, criminals would feel in a certain sense comfortable being armed, knowing that the public is against disarmament.

Opposition to the referendum itself

Many people were against the referendum itself. The obligatory nature of voting on this referendum seemed absurd to some people. Other arguments along these lines include the lack of any option by which the public could decide such a complex subject other than a binary choice with a simple "yes" or "no", and the short time and small amount of trustworthy information. Other critics said that this referendum was simply a trick to promote the interests of certain entities. And others said that this referendum would not change the situation of violence in the country, claiming that this was caused to a much greater extent by social inequities, poor distribution of income, poor public education, ineffective and poorly paid police and a lack of justice.

Other critics did not agree with the form in which the question was presented. The magazine "Veja", for example, wrote on October 5, 2005 that the question presented on the ballot — "Should the sale of firearms and ammunition be prohibited in Brazil?" was biased and not presented honestly. The magazine felt that the question should have been "Can the Brazilian government take away people's right to buy firearms?" ("O Estado brasileiro pode tirar das pessoas o direito de comprar uma arma de fogo?").

Generally, people who opposed the existence of the referendum itself recommended casting an invalid or blank vote or voting "no" (to keep the "status quo").

Positive results of the referendum

Many people believe that there was a positive aspect in this popular consultation process. The debate on disarmament may have helped the development of a critical spirit and the stimulation of Brazilian society to assume a more participatory culture, including in the political arena.

Another aspect often praised by certain parts of society was the way the campaign turned out. In contrast with other elections, in which visual and auditory pollution took a toll on Brazilian cities, this contest was carried out amidst clean streets and a calmer environment before, during, and after the voting. Right at the time of the referendum, investigations took place concerning illicit campaign practices which seemed to reinforce the critics of the way political disputes happen in Brazil.

Rumors and speculation

Various rumors and speculations arose concerning this referendum. Among them:

* The objective of disarming the public (first through the Disarmament Campaign and then with this referendum) was associated with an "arming" on the part of President Lula's government, in order to effect a socialist revolution in Brazil. Disarming the public would be the first step.
* The referendum was a plot on the part of politicians to distract attention from the Mensalão scandal. This hypothesis is now dismissed, since the referendum was proposed in 2003.
* Disarmament would be beneficial to the geopolitical hegemony of the United States over Brazil and Latin America in general. Thus, any invasion of Brazilian territory would be easier.
* Voting "yes" would remove some of the responsibility of the public power to look after the security of the population.
* Charlton Heston, retired actor and former president of the United States National Rifle Association, recorded a program to be shown on a TV during a block of time reserved for the "no" movement. Learning this, the supporters of the referendum pledged to counter this program with one featuring the controversial Michael Moore (who included Heston in his documentary "Bowling for Columbine"). Moore allegedly agreed to tape a TV program for free. None of these claims were ever proven.
* A rumor advanced by the site Cocadaboa (at [] ) said that "Drug dealers want to ban the sale of guns" ("Traficantes querem proibição do comércio de armas") and that the drug trade was invested in the "yes" vote.
* The Globo network was negotiating a partnership with the Austrian gun company Glock to create a huge security company which would look after the entire country. (Glock is, in fact, planning to construct a factory in the city of Campinas, São Paulo State.)


* It was said that that Brazilian mass media was supporting the "yes" side. In fact, the Globo organization supported "yes" openly. With examples to be cited, various artists from the Globo network voted "yes" and the magazine Época pushed an article openly supporting "yes" on October 10, 2005.

* The magazine "Veja" presented, on October 5, 2005, a cover story with an article clearly supporting "no".

* Marcelo Beraba, ombudsman of the "Folha de S. Paulo", said that "the press is for 'yes', but that's obvious" ("a imprensa é pelo 'sim', só que isso é escamoteado"). He said that "if the Veja article had been 'Seven reasons for you to vote yes', it wouldn't have been reason for the scandal that it caused" ("se a matéria de Veja fosse 'Sete razões para você votar no sim' não teria causado o escândalo que causou"). Alberto Dines, of the Press Observer, criticized the reporting of "Veja", but supported Beraba's criticism, concluding that "our press is not reliable" ("a nossa imprensa não é confiável"). []

The dark side of the dispute

According to Ancelmo Gois, of the newspaper "O Globo", the official site of the "yes" campaign received various hacker attacks daily, which made the organizers change their access provider. Nonetheless, the attacks continued.

Who supported what

Some people and organizations who insisted on revealing their choices.

* The PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) officially supported "yes".
* The PPS (Partido Popular Socialista) openly supported "yes".
* The PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado) supported "no".
* President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva supported "yes".
* The mayor of the city of São Paulo, José Serra, said that he voted "yes".
* The governor of the state of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, said that he voted "yes".
* The former representative Roberto Jefferson voted "no".
* Senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães (ACM) said that he voted "no".
* Representative Antônio Carlos Magalhães III, grandson of ACM, said that he voted "yes".
* Journalist and blogger Ricardo Noblat defended "yes".
* The journalists Kennedy Alencar, Vinicius Mota, Hélio Schwartsman, Marcelo Beraba and Gilberto Dimenstein of the Folha de São Paulo defended "yes".
* Various artists of the Globo television network supported "yes".
* Zezé de Camargo voted "no" and his brother Luciano voted "yes".

Finances of the campaigns

After the referendum, the [ blog of a journalist at the Folha de S. Paulo] revealed the main donators to the two sides:

* "No" received practically all its donations from Taurus (R$2.4 million) and the Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos (Brazilian Cartridge Company) (R$2.6 million), Brazilian manufacturers of guns and ammunition, respectively.
* The "no" campaign stayed on top financially, spending only what it received in donations.
* "Yes" had as its main contributors the beverage company Ambev (around R$400,000), the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (R$100,000) and the Prestadora de Serviços Estruturar (R$400,000), with a total of R$2.4 million in donations.
* The "yes" campaign had a deficit of R$320,000.

The blog reported that politicians who supported the "no" campaign said they were embarrassed to learn that the campaign had been financed by the arms industries. In fact, the president of the "no" campaign, representative Alberto Fraga (PFL-DF), said: "We didn't want that. But the amount of money involved was large and we didn't have any other way to pay for these expenses." ("Não queríamos isso. Mas o volume de dinheiro era grande e não tivemos como cobrir essas despesas com outras doações").

Fraga thinks, however, that nobody could have hoped for a different result: "Who's going to pay this bill? It couldn't be Águas de Lindóia or the Cervejaria Antárctica [beverage company] . Our accounting is transparent; we don't have another hidden account, this is it. Thank God we didn't end up in debt." ("Quem iria pagar essa conta? Não poderia ser nem a Águas de Lindóia nem a Cervejaria Antárctica. Nossa contabilidade é transparente. Não temos caixa dois. É tudo por dentro. Graças a Deus não ficamos com dívidas.")

ee also

* Gun politics
* Gun politics in Brazil

External links

;Information (in Portuguese)
* [ Resultado Oficial]
* [ Instruções e Resoluções do TSE]
* [ Tire suas dúvidas sobre o Estatuto do Desarmamento]
* [ Referendo Sobre o Desarmamento]
* [ Comunicação do Senado]
* [ Pesquisa do Datafolha]
* [ Lei que regulamenta a execução dos meios de soberania popular previstos no artigo 14 da Constituição Federal] ;Opinions against the referendum (in Portuguese)
* [ PSTU - Vote Não! Pelo direito à autodefesa dos trabalhadores!]
* [ Referendo da Fumaça, Revista Veja, 05/10/05]
* [ Portal Nosso São Paulo - Diga "não" à Mentira e à Hipocrisia]
* [ A Farsa do Desarmamento]
* [ Charges]
* [ Mídia sem Máscara] ;Opinions in support of the referendum (in Portuguese)
* [ Especial Trip Desarmamento]
* [ Pelo sim ao desarmamento - Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Minorias da Câmara dos Deputados - CDHM]
* [ Sim ao desarmamento]
* [ Site Desarme]


* "This article is based on material translated from the corresponding article in the Portuguese Wikipedia: ".

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