Hunting and Self-Defence

The use of firearms in Portugal at the beginning of the political regime of Estado Novo

WORDS Diogo Vivas (Municipal Archive of Lagoa)

Over recent times, the implications of free access to firearms and the devastating effects of their misuse is widely reported. The debate over the rights of individuals to own a firearm versus the need to guarantee public safety is a very current debate, yet the municipal archive of Lagoa shows that achieving a balance is a century-old issue.

Following the coup of 28 May 1926,  the military dictatorship in Portugal established and published a new law to amalgamate licensing conditions and legislation into one legal document and put regulations into government control. Decree No. 13470 of 21 May 1927 contained regulations regarding the import, use, and carrying of weapons and ammunition, as well as the trade and use of explosives. This decree ordered that within each municipal district, ledgers were in place to register firearms. These distinct, paged and numbered books, initiated by the Civil Governor, were used for the registration of licences for the use and carrying of weapons for personal defence or for hunting.

Record of a licence of a personal firearm from Dr. Sebastião  Trindade Pinto, the municipal doctor in Lagoa

The books preserved in the Municipal Archive of Lagoa are not just records of the past, but unique artefacts that provide a glimpse into the decentralisation of powers in the municipal administrations and the social history of firearms ownership in Portugal.

As well as information of a personal nature pertaining to the owners of the firearms (such as name, profession, age, marital status and address), these books also contain rare photographs and the characteristics of the licensed weapon. Photographs were not common during this period, so these records are a rare find. From these documents, we can see photographs that date back over a century, which allow us to observe the type of weapons used for both personal defence and hunting. But more than this, in social terms, we can understand who actually owned weapons in this era.

It is another example of how municipal archives can contain unique insights into the social history of the time that may not otherwise have been recorded. 

These documents are available for consultation at the Municipal Archive of Lagoa.


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