Responses to our Wall Street Journal article on the plummeting murder rates in Brazil and our response to them

Jul 12, 2022 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott’s June 26th op-ed in the Wall Street Journal generated three different letters to the editor.

In “More Legal Guns Reduced Crime in Brazil” (op-ed, June 27), John Lott Jr. suggests that loosening gun restrictions in Brazil has led to a precipitous drop in the murder rate. This headline and story imply a causative relationship between the Bolsonaro policy changes and the drop in homicides.

Reforms made prior to President Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency (such as better law-enforcement coordination) are much more likely to be the cause of the decline in the past 20 years. In fact, the biggest declines in the murder rate occurred before Mr. Bolsonaro reached office.

Research in Population Health Metrics persuasively finds that much of the decline before 2017 can be attributed to weapons-collections programs begun in 2003. The parts of the country that removed guns from the streets in these collection programs actually saw fewer firearms deaths. To suggest that dropping homicide rates from the past few years can be attributed to Mr. Bolsonaro’s gun policies belies nearly 20 years of evidence to the contrary.

Vince Meserko

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Mr. Lott’s observation is consistent with my experience in Israel, where our tour guide commented that home burglaries are almost nonexistent because every home has a gun. Legal gun ownership has a deterrent effect.

James Vick

Salem, Ore.

Mr. Lott notes that a decline in the murder rate in Brazil seems to correspond to a careful increase in gun ownership that started in late 2018. Brazil’s murder rate peaked in 2017 (30.8 per 100,000) and declined in 2018 to 27.4 and 22.7 in 2019, but increased in 2020 to 23.6., and declined again in 2021 to 19.2. These numbers vary according to the source used, but the murder rate clearly declined substantially.

What was going on? According to various press reports, some of the Brazilian states have instituted a comprehensive program of police reforms including better data collection, crime mapping, police training and coordination of military and civil forces. Policy focuses on violent criminal gangs. Also, restrictions on late-night sales of alcohol are being used.

In short, Brazil is using policies known to work. President Biden and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul should take note.

Em. Prof. John F. McDonald

University of Illinois Chicago


“Guns, Crime and Brazil’s Tumbling Murder Rate,” Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2022.

Dr. Lott’s response.

Anyone who has read my academic work knows I believe that police are extremely important. But Brazil’s drop in murder rates was more than in just some of Brazil’s 26 states. Beyond that, all sorts of news media and academic experts could see these other policies and still predicted that Bolsonaro’s gun policies would increase murder and violent crime. McDonald’s explanation was visible to all these experts, but they still believed that the murder rate would go up, not fall by 34%.

As to Meserko’s claim about gun buybacks that started in 2003 being responsible for the drop in murder and violent crime one-and-a-half decades later, that is quite a delayed response.