Brazilian researchers say the number of violent deaths last year fell to the lowest level in more than a decade, surprising some experts as the country has seen an explosion of firearms in recent years.
About 47,500 people were killed in Latin America’s largest country in 2022, according to a report Thursday by the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent crime-tracking group. Its statistics are widely used as a benchmark because there are no official figures at the national level.
While the number of fatalities in 2022 was 2.4 percent lower than the previous year, it remained roughly at the level recorded since 2019. The last time Brazil had fewer violent deaths was in 2011, with 47,215 deaths.
The drop in homicides has somewhat surprised many public safety experts, as the number of firearms owned by Brazilians has risen sharply. 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 will reach 1.5 million in 2022, a 47.5 percent increase over 2019.
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Experts have suggested at least three reasons behind the dual trend.
Samira Bueno, executive director of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, said she felt the relative truce between the gangs since 2018 was a key factor. An explosion of violence in 2017, when his group recorded 63,880 deaths, was largely due to the rivalry between the First Capital Command and Redang Command G.
Carolina Ricardo, director of the Instituto Su da Paz, a non-profit group that monitors public security, said another factor is that more Brazilian states have implemented ambitious public security policies alongside social initiatives such as working to keep children in school.
Brazil’s aging population may be a third factor, Ricardo said. “Usually, those who die and kill are young people,” he said.
But Ricardo also expressed concern over the prevalence of massacres using firearms.
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“Although homicides have not increased, the rate of deaths by firearms in Brazil is still very high.” Firearms were responsible for 77 percent of all homicides last year, according to Thursday’s report. That’s much higher than the world average of 44 percent, Ricardo said.
Addressing other areas of violence, the report said that while homicides declined, violence against women increased and Brazil’s statutory rapes rose to record numbers, mostly affecting children. Brazil’s legal definition of rape is broader than in the US and does not necessarily require sexual penetration.
There were nearly 15,000 rape victims in 2022, an 8.2 percent increase from the previous year. Nearly two-thirds of the victims were children 13 years of age or younger, the report said. Feminicide increased by 6 percent, with 1,437 deaths.