RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A stray bullet hits the neck of a small boy near an area where thousands of soccer fans had earlier watched Brazil play on a giant screen. A volley of gunfire is heard near Honduras' training camp. An angry off-duty police officer is caught on camera pulling out a handgun and firing two shots in the air to scatter protesters.
From northeastern Fortaleza, to coastal Rio de Janeiro to the rural interior of Sao Paulo state, the sound of gunfire has echoed during this year's World Cup.
Firearms proliferate in Brazil, where the drug trade has created a culture steeped in violence. With the world's eyes on the South American country for international soccer's premier event, it's inevitable that Brazil's gun culture is being noticed as well.
The more than 15 million arms in the country are carried mostly by gang members and police.
Firearm-related deaths in Brazil are still among the highest in the world, even though the number of murders in the country has stabilized in recent years. Around 40,000 people are killed annually by guns in Brazil, roughly four times the number in the U.S., the world's biggest civilian gun market and a country larger by more than 100 million people.
The flood of weapons belies tough gun laws that would make many National Rifle Association members cringe. Like everything in bureaucratic Brazil, from opening a bank account to starting a business, purchasing a gun can be time-consuming. Along with a background check, buyers must complete a sworn affidavit stating why they want a gun, undergo an evaluation by a psychologist and pass a test demonstrating they know how to handle the weapon.
As a result, most guns are obtained illegally. Gang members who dominate slums covering large swaths of cities like Sao Paulo and Rio prefer imported assault weapons that are smuggled across the largely porous border in the Amazon and other jungle areas. Pistols and smaller-caliber guns are mostly manufactured in Brazil and sold legally, but wind up on the black market by criminal gangs dedicated to stealing weapons or by police officers who seize them at crime scenes.