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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Brazilian Voters Reject Law to Ban Gun Sales

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Brazilians soundly rejected a proposal to ban gun sales in a national referendum that stirred a fierce debate in a country with one of the world's highest gun-death rates.

With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Sunday, 64 percent of Brazilians were opposed to the ban, while 36 percent backed it, said officials at the Supreme Electoral Court, giving the "no" position an insurmountable lead.

"They didn't vote in favor of guns, they voted to protest the government and the lack of a national security policy," said Antonio Rangel, coordinator of the gun control campaign at the Viva Rio think tank. "Two months ago, we had 81 percent support for the ban, this shows that less than 20 percent of the population really believe in guns. The rest was protest."

But those who opposed the ban said it was more than that.

"The 'no,' aside from being a protest, is a reaction to the attempt to take a right away from the citizen," said Representative Alberto Fraga, who led the congressional lobby against the ban. "If the ban was approved, the bandits would have been overjoyed with the incompetence of the state."

According to UNESCO, Brazil ranks second worldwide in deaths by guns, with 21.72 deaths per 100,000 people each year. Venezuela has 34.3 gun deaths per 100,000.

While supporters argued that gun control was the best way to staunch the violence, opponents played on Brazilians' fears that the police could not protect them.

"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.

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 on the street.

That law, coupled with a government-sponsored gun buyback program, has reduced deaths from firearms by about 8 percent this year, the Health Ministry said.

But the referendum backfired for proponents. Earlier this year, support for the ban was running as high as 80 percent. But in the weeks before the referendum, both sides were granted free time to present their cases on prime-time television, and the pro-gun lobby began to grow.

Analysts said the pro-gun advocates benefited from equal time on television in the final weeks of the campaign and that they cannily cashed in on Brazilian skepticism of the police.

"They ask the question: 'Do you feel protected and do you think the government is protecting you?' and the answer is a violent no," said political scientist David Fleischer of the University of Brasilia.