Portugal's firearms: lock, stock and barrel

28 June 2010

An interview with Tatiana Moura and Rita Santos, IANSA women from Portugal, by Lis Horta Moriconi of Comunidade Segura a project of Viva Rio in Brazil. Tatiana and Rita talk about the latest report of the University of Coimbra’s Gender and Armed Violence Watch, the Observatório de Gênero e Violência Armada (OGiVA), part of the Centre for Peace Studies.

Portugal's firearms: lock, stock and barrel

Interview with Tatiana Moura and Rita Santos
23 June 2010

A quiet nation with low rates of armed violence, Portugal has nevertheless recorded a rising rates of gun related crime rate. More than that it is a place where the role of guns in civilian life has seen little discussion. This is about to change with the publication of an exhaustive report by University of Coimbra’s Gender and Armed Violence Watch, the Observatório de Gênero e Violência Armada (OGiVA) that belongs to its Peace Studies Center.

“We tried to map the legal and illegal supply of guns, find out who uses them and who bears guns in Portugal, what their motivations are, as well as research the impact of armed violence in the nation,” said Tatiana Moura who launched the study along will co-author Rita Santos. "The notion that Portugal is a nation of quiet ways is clearly dismissed by our study," said Santos.

The study “Violência e armas pequenas: um retrato português” (or: Violence and small arms: a Portuguese portrait) included a contribution from Brazil’s Viva Rio NGO that provided data analysis, and set up partnerships with a number of entities to gather data on guns. The study took two years to complete, it lead the authors not only to the data bases but also into jails and detention centers, and to interview legal gun owners. The results have called the attention of media and public opinion. Violência also analyzed best practices in gun control policy and mentioned the gun laws in Brazil, Canada and Australia as best practices.

Q: How did the study come about?

The Peace Studies Center and OGiVA (Gender and Armed Violence Watch) are members of IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms) and participate in both international debates and national gun control campaigns. Our team felt the need to contribute towards producing more rigorous knowledge of firearms in civilian hands in our country. That was how this research project was born, financed by the Science and Technology Foundation, (Fundação Ciência e Technologia, FCT). It is a groundbreaking project that hopes to take the first step towards generating more debate in the nation, and more efficient public policies.

Q: What was the methodology?

Our methodology varied according to the data available, especially because we had to go to various databases. We used quantitative data to analyze illegal and legal supply of firearms, and to look at the number of registered firearms, licensed users, seizures, weapons deviated and stolen. Among our sources, we note the Departamento Nacional de Armas e Explosivos da Polícia de Segurança Pública (DAE/PSP), and for data on firearms imports and exports, Segurança Pública (DAE/PSP) UNCOMtrade (United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database), the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (Nisat) as well as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) database for arms transfers.

Q: What about the demand for guns?

To study demand, apart from the data we obtained providing use with a profile of legal gun users, we also adopted qualitative tools. We interviewed legal gun owners, hunters. To study illegal gun owners we went to prisons and detention centers, in this case the Centros Educativos dos Olivais, in Coimbra (male), and Navarro Paiva, in Lisbon (for both men and women); and prisons of Coimbra (male) and Tires (female).

Q: How did the interviews go?

We knew it was a complicated topic but we believed that it would be easier to talk to illegal gun users or criminals. But the fact it turned out that the most difficult interviews to conduct were the ones involving licensed gun users.

It is a bit of a contradiction: if, on the one hand the discourse of legal gun owners, most of them who were licensed hunters and amply justified in the law, socially and even culturally, (whether for historical or traditional reasons) on the other hand, these people did not want to describe, show or even let us photograph their weapons, despite the fact they had legal proof of their right to ownership.

Q: How did the public react to the results?

If we take the reception the study had in our seminars and the media, the public was most interested in data on the estimated number of illegal firearms in the country, on how firearms affect domestic violence, and on the costs of armed violence.

Q: How many firearms are there in Portugal?

We believe there are close to 2.6 million firearms in civilian hands. Of these, 1.4 million are legal (54%) and 1.2 million are illegal (46%). In other words, there are in our country 2.5 firearms for every 10 inhabitants, based on the number of gun registered in Portugal, according to the Department of Explosives and Firearms (DAE/PSP).

Q: How did you assess the role of firearms in violence against women?

We applied a questionnaire at the national level to evaluate the impact of firearms in violence against women. Of the 101 women that used the services of the Portuguese Victim Support Association (Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima (APAV) and who answered our questionnaire, 30.7% reported that their assailant had access to firearms.

Guns can be a threat even if unseen...

A very significant percentage of victims stated that they did not know if their partners had a gun at home (39%). And not knowing means that they are forced to deal with this uncertainty, and therefore, with the prospect of imminent discovery. Guns don’t necessarily have to be used or even seen for them to have a role in perpetuating the dominance of one person over another. We also found that the threat of using a firearm is the most common form of intimidation, more prevalent even, than of showing or pointing a gun at a victim.

What dose the data on firearms-related deaths mean when the setting is Europe?
From 2003 to 2008, 682 people died firearms-related deaths in Portugal. Of these victims, 16% were women, in other words, at least two people die a week due to firearms, most of them men. There are a recorded 715 accidents with firearms, 702 homicides, and attempted homicides in the same period of time. These numbers put Portugal close to countries like England, Poland and Italy, and ahead of Spain, Germany and Norway.

Q: How do the Portuguese people feel about guns and violence?

Over the past few years the media has been responsible for a rather stereotypical view of fund and armed violence that gives us the impression that guns are an issue in the peripheries of the great cities and that the biggest threat comes form illegal firearms, especially revolvers and pistols. They also imply that the greatest number of victims and perpetrators of gun crimes are men. We get the same picture when we ask people about their sense of security and firearms.

But reality is quite different. Firearms, especially those used for hunting are not recent in our country. Neither is their use, and inappropriate use. Armed violence does not take place solely in the public sphere, but is affects women in very specific ways in the private sphere. And youths from the peripheries of the big cities are not the only or even the main gun bearers.

Q: How does gender influence how people relate to firearms?

The majority of those interviewed at the Coimbra prison, (Estabelecimento Prisional de Coimbra) who had contact with guns associate them to self protection and the protection of their family (especially), less associate them to power and virility. In some interviewees reported they associated a rejection of guns with fatherhood.

We also interviewed female detainees at the Tires prison (Estabelecimento Prisional de Tires) where close to 8% are in custody due to gun-related crimes. They came into contact with guns older than males, and generally when they join the drug trade. They report that the guns are usually being used by third parties and that when they do use guns themselves, it is for self protection or to protect their business. A significant number of respondents reported the use of firearms in situations of domestic violence and as a reaction to a history of abuse.

Q: What do you believe should be done to prevent gun violence?

Firstly it is important to carry on with research on the glorification of guns and on what influence they have over the lives of men and women. It is equally important to analyze what makes some people more adverse to the ownership and use of firearms, what are the conditioning factors and how they could be strengthened.

We need policy that fosters the involvement of men and women in preparing, creating and implementing gun control policy and laws, such as for example, volunteer gun hand in and destruction drives as well as collecting more data on the use, possession and impact of guns, which is equally important.

Q: Which points of the study would like to highlight?

One of the main conclusions of our study are the similarities that we found in patterns of firearms imports, gun licensing in Portugal and the numbers of guns seized, deviated and given over to the state This confirms the symbiosis that exists between the legal and illegal market, that is common all over the world, even if with varying degrees of intensity.

That is why it will always be necessary to create efficient controls over legal guns to better control illegal guns. We believe, thus, that along with Amnesty International Portugal and the Observatório Permanente sobre a Produção, Comercialização e Proliferação de Armas Leves, that Portugal should launch a new voluntary hand-in drive, such as the one held from July to September 2006.

Since it was held for only a short period, the drive did weakly with civil society and was given little attention by the media. The full potential of the drive as a pedagogical tool was not reached. We also believe it would be essential to make it possible to destroy surplus firearms and to make this practice more common. The Portuguese law allows surplus weapons handed in or seized to go into auction. This law, in our view, goes against the goals of preventing the dissemination of firearms in the civilian population.

Available online at: http://www.comunidadesegura.org.br/en/STORY_Portugals_guns_lock_stock_an...

Also see:
“Violence and Small Arms: the Portuguese case” (2008-2010)

Comunidade Segura a project of Viva Rio, Brazil