American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and three members of his team were stopped and robbed in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend. According to Lochte’s statement, the robbers posed as armed police officers, using badges to order the swimmers’ taxi to pull over, then taking their wallets at gunpoint. This incident fits into a list of such crimes, including robberies of athletes and members of the media and bullets landing in venues.
The Olympic venues have been given special protection by the Brazilian government, while the slums—favelas is the local term—of Rio are in the midst of a drug war between gangs and law enforcement. The nation’s sharp divide between rich and poor, is an additional driver of violence, along with corruption in the police and courts that aren’t working. Homicides run at a rate of over thirty per hundred thousand and have held at that rate since the year 2000.
In some respects, Brazil’s history runs parallel to our own. The territory was one of the early European colonies in the New World and went through a protracted struggle to secure independence during the first half of the nineteenth century. Importation of slaves from Africa wasn’t outlawed until 1850, and slavery itself was abolished finally in 1888. In the twentieth century, the nation experienced a succession of revolts and military dictatorships, but over the last several decades, Brazil has been working to turn itself into a modern economy and a democratic society. In this respect, the country looks a lot like the United States during the beginning of the last century—a large and diverse population with extensive resources finding its place in the world, but with lingering problems at home.
One key difference between these two nations is in gun control. Brazil has the laws that our advocates of control want here. Owning a gun legally requires you to prove where you live and how you earn your living, along with proving a clean criminal and mental health record and a need for owning firearms. With all of that, the police can still deny permission if they so choose.
In 2005, anti-gun activists attempted to get a referendum passed to ban private ownership of firearms altogether in Brazil. Our NRA aided the defeat of that law over concerns about how it fitted into a larger movement globally. And yet, again in parallel with our own experience, gun violence in Brazil is being committed mainly with illegal weapons—guns that are smuggled in, stolen from legal owners, or purchased from corrupt government officials.
Is anyone surprised by this? Take a country with lots of space, long land and sea borders, and an active criminal element that has much experience moving contraband, and you have a perfect example of a nation that cannot stop violence through increasing controls. In the United States, we have worked—to varying degrees, with need for much more—to educate our people and to make opportunity available to everyone. If we could bring ourselves to adopt a rational policy regarding drugs, one that treats addiction as a medical, not a criminal problem, we’d do even better.
Brazilians are now considering making their gun laws more like ours in an effort to make self-defense for good people a real possibility. Both our nations would do well to use solutions that really can reduce violence—education, honest policing, and a respect for individual rights.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.