How Bolsonaro's gun laws arm Brazil's criminals

STORY: How are Brazil’s loose gun laws making it easier for gangs to obtain assault weapons?

Since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 and began loosening gun laws, the number of registered gun owners has surged.

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians now legally own guns, including high-caliber weapons.

“Everybody has to buy a rifle, man. Armed people will never be enslaved.”

Bolsonaro says the weapons are being bought by "good" Brazilians to help reduce crime.

But a Reuters investigation has found that many of those firearms end up in the hands of the most violent criminals in Brazil.

Over a dozen federal and state police officers told Reuters there is mounting evidence that legitimately acquired weapons are leaking onto the black market and are being used to commit crimes across the country.

Bruno Langeani is the project manager of the Sou Da Paz – or Peace in Practice - institute.

"Before Bolsonaro's government, we already had a problem with shooting association licenses. In thefts and robberies of residences, there were many weapon arsenals. Between 10 and 15 licensed guns go to crime. But this problem has increased a lot because now, with this possibility of buying a lot of rifles, you have an incentive with the infiltration of organized crime putting a straw buyer with no criminal record who buy these weapons and pass them on to crime."

Bolsonaro, a nationalist former soldier, has made it easier for Brazilians to bulk-buy firearms.

Gun owners can register with the army as hunters, marksmen or collectors, known as CACs.

Nearly 700,000 Brazilians are now accredited as CACs, up almost 500% since 2018.

Bolsonaro says the legally purchased weapons help reduce Brazil's murder rate - the highest in the world.

“We defend weapons for decent citizens because we understand firearms, in addition to providing personal security for our families, it’s for our national security.”

But experts dispute Bolsonaro’s theory and warn there is a strong link between gun deaths and the number of firearms in circulation.

In July, Reuters reported that Brazil's Federal Police disapproved of Bolsonaro's gun policies, arguing they would put more weapons in the hands of criminals.

There are signs that's become a reality:

Federal officers said Brazil's gangs are increasingly using legalized gun-owners as straw buyers to replenish arsenals...Or even steal weapons from CAC permit-holders' homes.

Bolsonaro's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Federal Police directed questions to the Army, which grants CAC permits. It, too, did not respond.