The Brazilian military will now allow police and firefighters to buy powerful .45 caliber guns for personal use, raising fears over how the weapons will be used and where they might end up.
Prior to the ruling, only federal police were permitted to buy .45 caliber weapons, while other police agencies carried less lethal .40 or .38 weapons. The new regulations open the way for civil, military, and transport police to purchase .45 handguns.
The military command, which regulates gun sales in Brazil, said it changed the regulations in response to petitioning from state security forces.
The move has already sparked controversy among some sectors. "They are giving weapons to the police that they don’t know how to use. This is putting the safety of the police and the population at risk," a representative from violence prevention NGO Sou da Paz told O Globo.
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The decision to grant various police agencies access to more powerful weaponry is likely to prove controversial. Trust in the Brazilian police is low, amid widespread accusations of corruption, criminality and extrajudicial killings. Firefighters, who are allowed to carry weapons as part of the job, have also come under suspicion, with accusations that many form part of urban paramilitary groups while off-duty.
The easing of the regulations could be linked to the ongoing conflict between criminal gang the First Capital Command (PCC) and the São Paulo police, which claimed the lives of at least 100 officers in 2012. The risk that rather than giving police another means to protect themselves, the increased availability of .45 weapons could only further fuel the conflict.
Given past cases of Brazilian police selling weapons to criminal groups, there is a significant risk that these guns could fall into the hands of the gangs that are behind anti-police violence in much of the country. The high-power weapons could also end up being used by the vigilante militias that control many of Brazil’s favelas. Corrupt factions of the police and firefighting force are known to be members and collaborators of these militias.