Despite the loosening of gun ownership laws in Brazil, the country is seeing a boom in illegal gun factories, with homemade weapons taking up a significant percentage of the country’s total seizures.
On June 3, police in the Brazilian state of Amapá arrested three men for running an illegal weapons factory. They seized more than 30 homemade shotguns alongside a wide range of parts, including 102 gun barrels.
The factory had apparently been operating for more than 20 years. But this seizure was only the latest in the small northeastern state, with similar raids there on firearms factories being made in January and April. In 2018, police in the state seized 380 illegal weapons, most of which were homemade.
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The three men arrested in the latest raid said that the weapons were meant for local hunters, but police have already connected amateur gunsmiths in Amapá with organized crime.
As crime has risen in northeastern Brazil, Amapá has not been spared. The head of the state’s special police force (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais — BOPE) recently stated that gun ownership was increasing and most criminals are now carrying at least one handgun.
Brazil’s economic downturn seems to have been the impetus for the demand for these weapons to spread rapidly. Few such weapons were found in the state before 2014, according to Emerson Morais, a local deputy in the state of Minas Gerais.
“They [criminals] migrated to these types of homemade weapons which also have a high firing capacity, because their value is far lower,” he told the BBC.
He revealed that a black market submachine gun costs around 12,000 reais (around $3,000), while one crafted in an illegal factory can be purchased for only 5,000 reais (around $1,300).
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While in the case of Amapá, some homemade guns may be used for hunting, there is no doubt that the production of illegal firearms is primarily done with criminal customers in mind. A recent BBC report looked at the manufacturing of illegal submachine guns within Brazil and found that seizures of such weapons have grown in virtually every state in the country.
This production was long mostly reported in the country’s largest cities. A study of over 14,000 weapons seized in São Paulo in 2011 and 2012 found that 48 percent of them were likely homemade. Most of these were submachine guns, seemingly often based on the Brazilian Uru model.
Historically, Brazil has been known for stringent gun regulations which have made it difficult for the average citizen to obtain a firearm. The production of illegal weapons thus profited from high demand and low supply.
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Most of the makers of these weapons are not affiliated with any particular criminal groups, being happy to sell to almost anyone. They are able to skillfully modify or replicate existing weapons, while providing added benefits, such as allowing for 30 rounds or more to be fired in one burst, according to the BBC.
New laws by President Jair Bolsonaro have loosened import regulations for weapons and made it easier for citizens to obtain firearms. There has been widespread concern that this will simply lead to more weapons falling into the hands of criminal groups. It is also unlikely to make any dent in the demand for homemade guns.
The availability and cheaper prices of these guns mean that the manufacturers will still find plenty of customers. While the weapons are not as sophisticated or durable as official guns, they have the added benefit of lacking serial numbers and are substantially cheaper.