New shooting club opens every day in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil as guns become key election issue | world news

It’s a quiet street in a fairly rough part of Sao Paulo, but the sound of high-velocity gunfire and the thud of shells hitting every few seconds is somewhat disconcerting.

The doorbell of a seemingly innocuous building rings; after a few minutes, the thick metal door opens and we are greeted by a man dressed in a smart black jacket over a bulletproof vest.

He waves us in and the door closes. Ahead of us, another metal door opens and the sound of gunfire greets us through a cloud of smoke that smells of barbecue.

This is the G-16 shooting club and it is open 24 hours a day. It’s lunch time and the BBQ, included in the membership fee, is outside.

In the Brazil Of the president Jair Bolsonaroshooting clubs have opened at the astonishing rate of one a day for the past four years.

The atmosphere is friendly but professional. At the counters, people fill out their firearms license forms. Moving around, pistols holstered and dressed in military gear, members and trainers prepare for the firing ranges scattered around the building.

Machine guns line the walls and handguns sit on display cases.

A young woman explains that license holders can buy and take handguns, but must order assault rifles.

“Or you can borrow them while you’re here and use them on the beach,” she adds with a beaming smile.

Private gun ownership has exploded under Mr. Bolsonaro’s right-wing government.

He and his supporters dispute that bearing arms is a fundamental right, although, unlike the United States, it is not mentioned in the Brazilian constitution.

“Bolsonaro is a weapons enthusiast”

Burly G-16 club owner Gustavo Pazzini is proud of his company’s growth in recent years. It started with one club, and now has four with 12,000 members.

He is a die-hard Bolsonaro supporter – the president’s picture hangs in the club lobby.

“Bolsonaro is a gun enthusiast, a military man, a pro-freedom politician, and he’s been able to make some changes, and that’s generally warmed the market, and that’s reignited the dreams of Brazilians who are gun enthusiasts and love guns.”

It’s a big booming growth sector and it’s another key issue in this desperately close election battle.

Brazilians head to the polls next Sunday for a second-round vote after Mr Bolsonaro and his rival Lula da Silva failed to secure enough votes for an outright victory.

The highly polarized vote will determine whether the country returns a leftist to head the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right leader in power for another four years.

In what is arguably the country’s most critical election since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, Mr da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party won 48.26% of the vote and Mr Bolsonaro secured 43 .34%.

The owner of the G-16 club, Gustavo Pazzini.  Stuart Ramsay's story of gun ownership in Brazil.  Submitted by Dominique/S Ramsay.  Posted October 10, 2022.
The owner of the G-16 club, Gustavo Pazzini

Threat of election-related violence

About an hour from Sao Paulo, we left the main road and drove to a series of port-a-cabins at the edge of a large open space.

Even in our car, the sound of machine guns, shotguns and revolvers was very loud.

This is the Assault Shooting Range, a sort of country club for amateur firearms users and a training ground for police and more serious shooting club enthusiasts dressed in matching uniforms, eager to learn battlefield craft like army.

There are fears that groups supporting Bolsonaro will shape themselves on US gun carriers backing Trump.

This fear was underscored by the proximity of elections and the threat of election-related violence.

But a day at the Assault Shooting Range is also a family affair.

The Stopa family on the range.  Stuart Ramsay's story of gun ownership in Brazil.  Submitted by Dominique/S Ramsay.  Posted October 10, 2022.
The family stopped together on the shooting range

“I think it’s cool”

All generations of the Stopa family are in the field with a variety of weapons and an instructor showing them how to use them all.

Georgia, 18, shoots a gun for the first time today.

“I think it’s so cool, I’m very happy,” she excitedly told us after firing the shotgun.

Her proud mom took pictures all the time.

Their instructor is dead serious but there are laughs and smiles throughout the lesson.

The Assault club owner, a former police officer, has no doubt that anything but a Bolsonaro win will be bad for him and his business.

President Bolsonaro has used executive powers to relax previously strict gun laws imposed by his electoral opponent Mr da Silva.

“People are worried about Lula’s return to government, of course, if his first attitude is to disarm the population. The more illiterate, disarmed and illiterate the population, the better it is for them,” explained the club owner to me.

On the way back from Assault, we stopped at one of the biggest gun shops in the country.

ISA comes complete with a top-notch coffee shop and is immaculate inside, with mood lighting and display cases full of gleaming weapons of all kinds.

Clovis Aguiar.  Stuart Ramsay's story of gun ownership in Brazil.  Submitted by Dominique/S Ramsay.  Posted October 10, 2022.
Clovis Aguiar shows off weapons he imported

It is a very successful business, and it flourished under Mr. Bolsonaro.

The owner of the armory told us he clears £1.7m every month.

Clovis Aguiar showed Jorge Seif, a Bolsonaro-supporting senator who is a big political player here, weapons he imported from his factory in Israel.

I asked the senator if he would like one of the guns – yes, he replied enthusiastically, laughing.

Senator Jorge Seif.  Stuart Ramsay's story of gun ownership in Brazil.  Submitted by Dominique/S Ramsay.  Posted October 10, 2022.
Senator Jorge Seif is confident of his electoral victory

Mr. Seif is confident that Mr. Bolsonaro will win and says that if he does and they control the Senate, they will change the gun laws for good.

“When a socialist government, a dictator government, an oppressive government comes to power, their first action is to disarm the people,” he said, referring to Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party.

“But President Bolsonaro shows his commitment to the Brazilian people, doesn’t he? Above all, he respects democracy because he trusts his people when he gives them the right to buy guns.”

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Mr da Silva and his supporters say having more guns in a country that already has a terrible crime record is reckless at best.

Supporters of Mr Bolsonaro disagree, saying guns allow people to protect themselves.

Like so many things in this election, they will never agree.