Brazilian voters today will decide whether to prohibit the commercial sale or manufacture of all firearms and ammunition, except for police and military use. Polling stations, which use computer voting, close at 5 p.m. First results are expected around 8 p.m., and final results around midnight. Brazil's President Lula has strongly supported gun prohibition, and pushed it through the legislature, only to have the Brazilian Supreme Court declare the prohibition unconstitutional. Lula has also proposed a United Nations tax on ammunition to pay for "development" (that is, a UN-sponsored transfer of money to corrupt governments such as his).
Various polls showed the referendum with as high as 76-83% approval months ago. But a superb campaign, lead by “Vote Não” has educated the public about the dangers of gun prohibition--including the fact that citizens would be defenseless against criminals (who will keep their guns no matter what the law says) and against totalitarian government.
The latest polls show the referndum failing by a 10-18% margin, and Lula is now distancing himself from the referendum.
The referendum was strongly supported by the international gun prohibition movement, which mobilized scores of celebrities and other notables to campaign for the referendum. The prohibitionists made no secret of their plan to use Brazil as a springboard for prohibition in other countries--starting with the rest of Latin America, and South Africa.
Even with a "Não" vote, Brazil's gun laws will remain extremely repressive, as they are deliberately designed to make gun licensing unaffordable to poor people.
Still, a victory for self-defense and civil liberties advocates in Brazil would be a stunning repudiation of the international gun prohibition movement. Although the Brazilian vote has received only a little attention in the United States, its long-term significance for the survival of the Second Amendment is enormous. It would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, for a robust Second Amendment to survive in the United States if the prohibition movement achieved its goals in the rest of the world.
A law student or other scholar who can read Portuguese could write a very interesting and important article on the subject of Brazilian gun laws and the recent campaign for prohibition.
UPDATE: With 71% of polling places reporting, the "Não" votes are ahead 65%-35%. If no vote stays over 60%--a landslide--the damage to the international gun prohibition movement will be especially severe.
The overwhelming public rejection of disarming innocent citizens may be playing an important role in the development of rights consciousness in Brazil. Consider this comment from an American working for a Brazlian gun prohibition group:
“Their whole campaign (against the ban) was imported from the United States. They just translated a lot of material from the NRA. Now, a lot of Brazilians are insisting on their right to bear arms, they don’t even have a pseudo right to bear arms. It’s not in their Constitution,” said Jessica Galeria, an American who researches gun violence with the Viva Rio think tank.It's true that Brazil--unlike the United States, Guatemala, or Mexico--does not have an explicit constitutional right to arms. But various provisions of the Brazilian Constitution imply the right to possess the means to defend oneself. For example, Article 5, section 11 states:
the home is the inviolable asylum of the individual, and no one may enter it without the dweller's consent, save in the case of "flagrante delicto" or disaster, or to give help, or, during the day, by court order;
Note that the above provision is limited not limited to "state action." The right to exclude burglars from the home is just as strong as the right to exclude rogue police.
More generally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes a right to forcibly resist tyranny (a purpose of arms-bearing which was repeatedly stated in the "Vote Não" campaign).
And the natural right of self-defense is one of the foundations of the Western and Catholic traditions of natural law--recognized by Thomas Aquinas and by the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (see, e.g., sections 2263-65). Surely the long Catholic tradition of the legitimacy of forcible self-defense is of some relevance in the rights-consciousness of an overwhelmingly Catholic nation. (I realize, of course, that Brazilian Bishops urged a "yes" vote on the referendum; the majority of the laity obviously disagreed with them, as the laity has every right to do, according to Catholic doctrine, in prudential matters of public affairs). Perhaps the referendum will encourage a future Brazilian government to recognize the obviously strong respect that Brazilians have for the right of self-defense, and to amend the Constitution to provide more explicit protections against the invasions of natural rights that might be attempted should a Lula-type ruler gain power some day in the future.