Homemade guns a genuine threat
The assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe should ring alarm bells for governments around the world, including Thailand's, about the threat posed by homemade guns such as the one used in the crime.
Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, allegedly killed Abe with a homemade firearm that he assembled at his small single-room flat in Nara.
It is reported the suspect had made a few such homemade guns from commercially available components: wood for the frame, a plumbing pipe, batteries and electrical wire. He learned about DIY gun-making from an online source.
In Thailand, homemade guns have been ubiquitous for years and even have their own nickname: "Thai pradit" guns (Thai-invented guns).
Just by clicking on the internet, gun enthusiasts can purchase a homemade gun without difficulty, at a price of just 6,000-8,000 baht.
In recent years perpetrators have used homemade guns to kill and attack their victims, as well as to rob gold shops or even groceries.
Examples are plentiful. On Jan 15, a 65-year-old man used a homemade gun to protect his daughter from being beaten by her ex-husband in Ubon Ratchathani province.
On Aug 4, 2017, a 19-year-old freshman at Rajabhat Nakhon Pathom University was arrested after killing sophomore Nattawut Singhasorn with a homemade firearm, shooting him at point-blank range. The assailant was apparently inflicted with a mental problem and angry after the sophomore sneered at him.
There have been a number of reports of police launching crackdowns on illicit gun sellers and homemade gun sellers.
The latest example came on Wednesday when police from the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) raided two houses in Bangkok and confiscated 2,103 so-called blank guns, 142 pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifles and 82,450 rounds of blank-gun cartridges.
According to the CCIB, the suspects sold their products to online customers. Despite looking innocuous, blank guns -- often used as starting pistols in sports competition or even in movie settings -- can be modified to fire real bullets.
Gun violence is a problem in Thailand. The US State Department's Bureau for Diplomatic Security in 2016 characterised Thailand as having "a fervent gun culture on par with the United States and being a world leader in firearms-related homicides".
Thailand has the highest rate of gun possession in the Southeast Asia region, according to a 2017 report by The Small Arms Survey, an independent research group based in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to GunPolicy.org, the total number of privately owned guns in Thailand is over 10 million, with just 6 million of those legally registered -- a full 40% potentially left unaccounted for.
According to the Royal Thai Police (RTP), 70% of gun homicides -- and homicides that occur with unregistered guns -- involve homemade guns as the weapon used.
Despite the threat these weapons pose, the government has never had clear strategy to solve the problem. Gun violence rarely gets the attention of the government or civic groups, unlike other social issues such as alcohol abuse or smoking.
As for existing law, Thailand has only one key piece of legislation on gun control and it dates back more than 70 years.
The Controlling Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation of Firearms Act 1947 was issued to maintain national security after a coup in 1932.
Even though this legislation is written to make it harder for civilians to carry guns, it has loopholes that can encourage sales on the black market.
In terms of homemade guns, this legislation does not have measures or penalties to deal with such weaponry or prevent owners of recreational guns from modifying them into dangerous firearms.
Even worse, the government has sent the wrong messages.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon in 2017 said he supported letting let former convicts arrested on homemade gun charges teach soldiers how to make their own weapons. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha floated the idea of granting an amnesty to those arrested on homemade gun charges.
Society can no longer ignore gun violence in Thailand or dismiss the issue as one which police should control.
On the contrary, it is about time the government and civic groups pushed for a gun control law. The country needs a law that directs agencies to help trace and monitor gun possession as well as to educate people about potential harmful effects. Because guns can be purchased online, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society needs to work harder to shut down these websites, the same way it does with other illicit products. Delays will lead only to more violence and loss of life.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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