Later this month every citizen from 18 to 70 will confront a clear, yes-no question: Should the sale of all types of guns and ammunition be banned nationwide for everyone except the police and military?
The Oct. 23 referendum, in which all adults must participate (voting is optional for those over 70), will be the first time any country has taken a proposed gun ban to the national ballot. Brazil has the highest number of firearms fatalities in the world, with more than 36,000 people shot dead last year, according to government figures.
Initial surveys indicate that most Brazilians favor a ban, hoping it will at least reduce the large number of guns circulating in the country. Opponents argue that banning guns will do little to stop criminals while making it harder for citizens to defend themselves.
Internationally, gun control advocates and opponents are monitoring the campaign closely, studying the possibility that the referendum could be replicated elsewhere.
"If the ban is passed, then I definitely expect other countries to try the same thing," said Rebecca Peters, director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations leading a U.N. effort to curb the illegal gun trade. "It will send a message to other countries influenced by powerful gun lobbies that it's possible to work around them."