Brazilians voters rejected a proposal to ban the sale of guns in a national referendum, rejecting a bid to stem one of the world's highest firearm murder rates in a debate that mirrored the gun control battle in the United States.
Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, but a staggering 25 percent more gun deaths at nearly 40,000 a year. While supporters argued gun control was the best way to stanch the violence, opponents played on Brazilians' fears that the police can't protect them in the campaign leading up to Sunday's vote.
"I don't like people walking around armed on the street. But since all the bandits have guns, you need to have a gun at home," said taxi driver Mohammed Osei, who voted against the ban.
With more than 92 percent of the votes counted, 64 percent of Brazilians opposed the ban, while 36 percent backed it, said election officials, giving the 'no' position an insurmountable lead.
The proposal would have prohibited the sale of firearms and ammunition except for police, the military, some security guards, gun collectors and sports shooters. It would complement a 2003 disarmament law that sharply restricts who can legally purchase firearms and carry guns in the street, reports the AP.
The vote was held less than two years after the government introduced temporary legislation that combined a buy-back scheme with regulations making it harder and more expensive to buy a weapon.
In little over a year, more than 450,000 weapons, ranging from First World War rifles to modern semi-automatics, have been handed over to police, while arms sales have plummeted and many gun shops have closed.
The initiative cut gun-related murders by eight per cent last year - the first time the rate had dropped in 13 years - but the murder rate still stands at 21.7 per 100,000, second only to Venezuela and 74 times the figure in Britain. It is believed that 17 million handguns and rifles are still in public circulation.
While the legislation was opposed by the gun lobby, which includes two of the world's biggest arms manufacturers, such statistics suggested to the government that there was more scope to rein in weapon circulation and legislators agreed to hold a nationwide referendum.
Proponents of the ban do not claim that making the restrictions permanent will curtail the drug violence that ravages the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Recife. But they do believe that there will be fewer killings.
"In just two years the campaign for disarmament and the ban of carrying weapons has saved thousands of people who would have died for inane reasons such as road rage, quarrels with neighbours and marital fights," said Raul Jungmann, one of the legislators leading the campaign, informs NEWS Telegraph.