() — The thunderous sound of gunfire reverberates through a room during a seemingly endless barrage.
It’s just after seven in the evening and the G-16 shooting range in São Paulo is busy as customers come in to relax after a busy day at work. Shooting ranges like the G-16 have prospered and expanded in recent years, gaining more members as gun and ammunition sales increase.
The merit, according to the co-owner of the G-16, Daniel Pazzini, belongs to the president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro.
“He basically did free publicity, encouraging people to buy weapons and defend themselves that way,” Pazzini said, referring to Bolsonaro’s longtime pro-gun message. Two large portraits of the president decorate the walls of his shooting range, along with a plethora of pistols, shotguns and a few large-caliber rifles.
Gun laws have become a key battlefield, along with religion, ahead of Sunday’s presidential election runoff between Bolsonaro and his leftist rival. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The divided campaign has seen both men take opposing sides of the gun ownership debate, as they attempt to court evangelical Christians, who are estimated to make up more than 30 percent 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 simple. “Bolsonaro defends the rights of gun owners, for good people, while Lula [da Silva] defends disarmament,” he says.
During Bolsonaro’s presidency, between 2018 and 2021, the number of registered firearms in the country increased from 350,000 to more than 1 million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police.
In contrast, Lula da Silva has pledged to tighten gun control if elected. Under his proposal, ordinary citizens would still be allowed to own guns but not carry them.
Pazzini says he doesn’t expect Lula da Silva to have a big impact on his business even if he becomes president, but he’s betting on Bolsonaro.
In a campaign season that has focused more on social issues and culture wars than the practicalities of politics, an increasing number of church and religious leaders have begun to openly preach electoral salvation.
Both presidential candidates have recognized the impact and influence churches have on the electorate, and have striven to get as many religious groups on their side as possible.
The task seems easier for incumbent Bolsonaro, who regularly prays at his rallies and has socially conservative stances on abortion, same-sex marriage and gender that are more aligned with most churches.
At the Assembly of God Victory in Christ, a Pentecostal church in Santo André, a suburban town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, senior pastor Odilon Santos is not shy about his political affiliation, saying he “will vote for Bolsonaro because of the principles he defends”.
Santos not only believes it’s fair for the church to get involved in politics, but he relishes the opportunity.
“We believe that this is excellent, it is a privilege for us, because for many years the church would not take a position at such an important moment 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 think I have the right to take a stand and influence others.”
Lula da Silva has also made efforts to court the churches of Brazil. The former president already led Bolsonaro by 53% to 28% among Catholics — the country’s largest religious denomination — before the first round of elections earlier this year, according to a poll from DataFolha of September 22.
And last week, Lula also published an open letter to evangelicals, promising to safeguard religious freedoms and distancing himself from some of the most divisive issues, such as abortion.
“I personally am against abortion and I remind everyone that this is not an issue that is decided by the President of the Republic, but by Congress,” Lula wrote.
But his words fell on deaf ears in the Saints congregation, he says. “For us, that letter has no value.”
Campaigns full of disinformation
The mistrust has been exacerbated by a bitter campaign season, marked by intense disinformation campaigns and insults on both sides.
Authorities in Brazil have stepped up efforts to remove inaccurate information from social media websites, including creating their own platform to debunk some of the allegations. But the effort drew cries of censure from Bolsonaro supporters, who have faced more investigations for allegedly spreading misinformation than Lula backers.
In October, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered a Bolsonaro-affiliated radio station to give Lula da Silva’s campaign the right to respond to some accusations, which the court deemed “false, distorted or offensive.” The decision angered Bolsonaro supporters, who claimed that the station, Jovem Pan, was being unfairly repressed.
“They say it’s fake news, anti-democratic acts. What’s that? What is the definition? Bolsonaro’s son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, said at a rally in Sao Paulo on October 25 in support of Joven Pam. “It’s unbelievable. They just say this is fake news. This is undemocratic acts and you get arrested.”
With polls showing only a slim margin between the candidates ahead of Sunday’s vote, it’s difficult to predict who will emerge victorious. What is clear, however, is that the polarizing campaigns, which have exacerbated Brazil’s many failings, will make the new president’s job more difficult.