Brazilian researchers say the number of violent deaths last year reached the lowest level in more than a decade, puzzling some experts because there has been an explosion of firearms circulating in the country in recent years.
About 47,500 people were slain in Latin America’s largest nation in 2022, said a report Thursday by the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent group that tracks crimes. Its statistics are widely used as a benchmark because there are no official statistics on a national level.
While the number of killings in 2022 was down 2.4% from the previous year, it remained roughly even with levels recorded since 2019. The last time Brazil had less violent deaths was in 2011, with 47,215 killings.
The fall in homicides has left many public security experts somewhat puzzled, as it has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of firearms held by Brazilians. Some studies have suggested that more guns circulating among the population lead to more homicides.
During his 2019-2022 term, then President Jair Bolsonaro worked to loosen regulations on gun ownership. The number of firearms registered with the Federal Police reached 1.5 million in 2022, up 47.5% from 2019.
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Experts have come up with at least three reasons behind the dual trend.
Samira Bueno, executive director of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, said he feels the main factor is the relative truce among gangs since 2018. An explosion of violence in 2017, when his group registered 63,880 killings, was largely attributed to a rivalry between the First Capital Command gang and the Red Command gang.
Carolina Ricardo, director of the Instituto Sou da Paz, a non-profit group that monitors public security, said another factor is that more Brazilian states have implemented ambitious public security policies along with social measures such as working to keep children in school.
Brazil’s aging population could be a third factor, Ricardo said. “In general, who dies and kills are young people,” she said.
But Ricardo also expressed concern about the prevalence of homicides using firearms.
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“Although homicides have not increased, the percentage of deaths by firearms in Brazil is still very high,” she said. According to Thursday’s report, firearms were responsible for 77% of all homicides last year. Ricardo said that is much higher than the world average of around 44%.
Addressing other areas of violence, the report said that while homicides declined, violence against women rose and there was a record number of rapes as defined by Brazilian law, affecting mostly children. Brazil’s legal definition of rape is broader than that of the U.S. and doesn’t necessarily require sexual penetration.
There were nearly 15,000 victims of rape in 2022, up 8.2% from the previous year. Nearly two-thirds of the victims were children aged 13 or younger, the report said. Feminicides went up 6%, with 1,437 killings.