The thunderous sound of gunfire echoes through a room during a seemingly endless barrage.
It’s a little after seven in the evening and the G-16 shooting range in São Paulo is packed, as customers arrive to relax after a busy day’s work. Ranges like the G-16 have flourished and grown in recent years, gaining more members as gun and ammunition sales increase.
Credit, according to G-16 co-owner Daniel Pazzini, goes to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
“He basically did free publicity, encouraging people to buy guns and defend themselves that way,” Pazzini said, referring to Bolsonaro’s longstanding pro-gun message. Two large portraits of the president adorn the walls of his range, alongside a plethora of handguns, shotguns and a few high-caliber rifles.
Gun laws have become a key battleground – alongside religion – ahead of Sunday’s run-off presidential election between Bolsonaro and his left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The turbulent campaign has seen the pair take opposing positions in the gun ownership debate, while attempting to woo evangelical Christians, who are thought to make up more than 30% of Brazil’s population, according to research institute Datafolha. .
While people of all political affiliations are welcome at his club, Pazzani says choosing his members will likely be straightforward. “Bolsonaro defends the rights of gun owners, for the right people, while Lula [da Silva] stands for disarmament,” he said.
During Bolsonaro’s presidency – between 2018 and 2021 – the number of registered firearms in the country rose from 350,000 to over a million, according to Brazil’s federal police.
On the other hand, Lula da Silva has pledged to strengthen gun control if elected. According to his proposal, ordinary citizens would still be allowed to own guns but not to carry them.
Pazzini says he doesn’t expect Lula da Silva to have much impact on his livelihood even if he becomes president – but he is betting on Bolsonaro.
In a campaign season that has focused more on social issues and culture wars than the workings of politics, a growing number of churches and religious leaders have begun to openly preach election salvation.
Both presidential candidates acknowledged the impact and influence of churches on the electorate and were keen to have as many religious groups on their side as possible.
The task seems easier for incumbent Bolsonaro, who regularly prays at his rallies and has a socially conservative stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and gender, which is more aligned with most churches.
At the Victory in Christ Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church in Santo André, a suburban town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, senior pastor Odilon Santos was quick on his political affiliation, saying that he “will vote for Bolsonaro because of the principles he stands for.
Santos not only believes it’s right for the church to get involved in politics, he relishes the opportunity.
“We think that’s great, it’s a privilege for us, because for many years the church hasn’t taken a stand at such an important time for the nation,” he says. “I am a church preacher but I am also a Brazilian citizen, I fulfill my obligations, I pay my taxes. I believe I have the right to take a stand and influence others.
Lula da Silva also made efforts to woo churches in Brazil. The former president was already leading Bolsonaro 53% to 28% among Catholics – the country’s largest religious denomination – ahead of the first round of voting earlier this year, according to a September 22 DataFolha survey.
And last week, Lula also published an open letter to evangelicals, promising to safeguard religious freedoms and distancing himself from some of the more controversial issues, such as abortion.
“I am personally against abortion and I remind everyone that this is not a matter to be decided by the President of the Republic, but by Congress,” Lula wrote.
But his words fell on deaf ears in the Santos congregation, he said. “For us, this letter has no value.”
Distrust has been heightened by a bitter election campaign, marked by intense disinformation campaigns and name-calling from both sides.
Brazilian authorities have stepped up efforts to remove inaccurate information from social media websites, even creating their own platform to debunk some of the accusations. But the effort has sparked cries of censure among Bolsonaro supporters, who have faced more investigations over the alleged spread of false information than those who support Lula.
In October, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered a Bolsonaro-affiliated radio station to give Lula da Silva’s campaign the right to respond to certain charges, which the court found “false, distorted or offensive”. The decision inflamed Bolsonaro supporters, who claimed the station, Jovem Pan, was being unfairly removed.
“They say it is fake news, anti-democratic acts. What is that? What is the definition? Bolsonaro’s son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, said at a rally in Sao Paulo on Oct. 25 in support of Joven Pam. “It’s unbelievable. They just say it’s fake news. It’s anti-democratic and they arrest you.
With polls showing only a narrow margin between the candidates ahead of Sunday’s vote, it is difficult to predict who will emerge victorious. What is clear, however, is that the polarizing campaigns, which have exacerbated Brazil’s many rifts, will make the job harder for the new president.