The thumb combined with the index and middle finger, mimicking a gun. This was the gesture that symbolized Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s electoral campaign. During rallies, he was pictured carrying young children on his arms, smiling and teaching them how to reproduce the gun sign.
The gesture soon spread among his supporters across the country. It was seen at every pro-Bolsonaro street demonstration. Choreographed choruses with hundreds of young people had the gun motion as a “grand finale” of their collective dances.
On the first days of January, during Bolsonaro’s presidential inauguration, street merchants made good money selling t-shirts with different versions of the new president pictured waving his gun gesture. The arms industry was certainly happy to see someone in such a prominent position propagating their product.
Brazil has previously seen presidential candidates displaying their index and the middle fingers as a V for victory. One of the most famous campaign hand gestures in the country’s history was the thumb and the index forming an L for Lula, Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2010 but currently in jail for corruption allegations.
Bolsonaro, though, was the only one to step up (or perhaps step down) to another level: his handgun signal helped to disseminate his ideas of changing the gun control laws to make weapons more accessible to the regular citizen.
During a campaign rally in the northwestern state of Acre, Bolsonaro took it a step further. While giving a speech on stage, he suddenly picked up a tripod, put it on his chest to simulate a machine gun, and yelled: “let’s shoot this petralhada (a derogative nickname that the right wing created to their opponents, the workers’ party’s supporters) here in Acre!”
His supporters were thrilled and cheered even more for their hero.
Guns for Self-Defense
The “guns for self-defense” motto was at the core of Bolsonaro’s winning electoral campaign. It appeals to the despair of the civil population plagued by street fear and the enormous amount of homicides – nearly 60,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2017 only.
However, several rigorous scientific studies have already provided robust data showing that the increase of guns leads to raising violent crimes. Regardless of the scientific evidence, Bolsonaro was able to create the illusion that an armed citizen would be better equipped to fight and kill robbers and home invaders.
Kkkkkkkkk! Valeu 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/z4xb67vhKI
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) October 20, 2018
This misconception and the fascination of self-empowerment that Bolsonaro’s guns ideals carried were especially well-received by middle-class heterosexual men. This particular group counted not only for the majority of the far-right candidate’s voters but were also Bolsonaro’s most active supporters.
They rallied behind him and promoted their “legend” in any possible instance, showing their hyper-muscular body mass and gloating over each of his misogynist and sexist public opinions. Bolsonaro’s pledge to traditional gender values and accessible guns has spoken directly to this group that over the past years felt socially vulnerable and culturally disempowered in the Brazilian society.
Threats to Masculinity
The threats to young and middle-aged Brazilian males’ masculinity come from a range of sources: from increasing unemployment rates that see them unable to take up the traditional role of family provider but also from young women who, empowered by feminist ideals, have been grabbing leadership roles in their communities and even in social movements (see for example the 2015 high school students revolt that was led by young women).
Every day women in Brazil look for feminist organizations that can support them in their struggle for gender equality – hence augmenting the fear that some men have of missing out their gender privileges – and against the violation of their rights, such as harassment on the streets or men occupying sport facilities without sharing the space with female teams.
Brazil’s Gun Laws
Following through on his electoral promises, and prompted by new Minister of Justice Sergio Moro (the same judge that threw Lula in jail), Bolsonaro declared that he would soon sign an executive order that will make it easier for Brazilians to purchase a gun. Currently, Brazilian laws are somehow restricting regarding buying weapons, and since the 2003 signing of the Estatuto do Desarmamento (Bill for Disarming), more than 650,000 guns have been voluntarily handed in to authorities.
Por decreto pretendemos garantir a POSSE de arma de fogo para o cidadão sem antecedentes criminais, bem como tornar seu registo definitivo.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) December 29, 2018
A recent and credible survey shows that 61 percent of Brazilians do not want new legislation that facilitates weapon purchase and ownership. Not surprising the survey points out that the majority who approve of softening of the gun law are middle and high-class heterosexual men.
During the 2018 presidential election campaign, Brazilians were lured by a candidate that promised the country would become once again a great place by restoring traditional moral values, fighting street violence, and eliminating governmental corruption. After the campaign, though, Brazilians started to realize that Bolsonaro’s actions might not accomplish what citizens were expecting when they engaged with his hate speech.
As the new year approached, some Brazilians already wished their friends a happy 2023, the year that a new president might replace Bolsonaro. Others, who are more politically engaged, have started to reignite their civil associations to resist the annihilation of their rights and the proliferation of guns in a country that already has alarming homicide rates.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.