The shooting at a luxury department store in the centre of Bangkok on Tuesday has shed light on "blank guns" -- recreational guns that have become popular weapons here. The double homicide that took place in the late afternoon at a jam-packed shopping mall red-flags the dire need for Thailand to revise its feeble gun policy.
Unlike previous shootings perpetrated by adults or officials with sufficient access and training to use firearms, the suspect is a 14-year-old boy. His weapon of choice was a "blank gun" that can be easily purchased online.
An initial police investigation found the suspect was addicted to online games, especially shooting games. The suspect was reportedly obsessed with these. One video clip which police found on the suspect's phone shows him demonstrating his prowess at firing the weapon. Police also found another modified blank gun at his home. Real bullets of various sizes -- some already used -- were also found in his room.
While it is duty of police investigators, criminologists or even psychologists to determine the motive, the shooting again reminds society that Thailand's gun policy is seriously flawed. How could it not be, when a minor can easily acquire a weapon and walk into a shopping mall to kill people?
Many online shopping sites sell recreational guns such as BB guns and blank guns, for thousands baht to over 10,000 baht for a modified version.
BB guns and blank guns are not considered firearms, so it is legal to possess them without having a permit or registering them. Despite looking innocuous, blank guns -- often used as starting pistols in sports competitions or even on movie sets -- can be modified to fire real bullets.
Indeed, there are many examples of gun violence where the wrongdoers have used these recreational guns. Most are teenagers or small-time crooks who cannot access real firearms.
Last year 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. It would not be a surprise if there are many more illicit blank guns out there.
After Tuesday's shooting, the government is reported to be reviewing its firearm legislation and plans to impose stricter rules to regulate the sales of recreational guns.
Such moves are welcome, if not long overdue.
Guns have flooded the country as a result of the government's welfare gun policy that permits officials to buy tax-free firearms without any limit. Meanwhile the Interior Ministry, which oversees the firearms policy, does not provide any safeguards to test whether buyers are fit to handle these lethal weapons.
The existing rules that treat BB guns as forms of entertainment are unrealistic at keeping pace with the improving technology that only adds to their destructive power -- bringing them closer to real firearms.
Lawmakers can no longer treat these recreational guns as "toys". Reasonable oversight, including monitoring systems for young buyers, are needed to allow only responsible users access to these recreational guns. Police must also be vigilant in shutting down recreational gun modification services.
It takes families and society to create a safe environment. Until then, society needs better gun control laws to stop guns -- both real and recreational models -- from falling into the wrong hands.