Gun violence reflects failures

Gun violence reflects failures

Lack of clear rules on firearm ownership and use proves fatal,

In this file photo, more than 2,300 illegal firearms and a large quantity of cartridges were displayed after they were seized at the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau in July. Experts have blamed the government for failing to control the sale and use of firearms to the general public. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
In this file photo, more than 2,300 illegal firearms and a large quantity of cartridges were displayed after they were seized at the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau in July. Experts have blamed the government for failing to control the sale and use of firearms to the general public. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Incidences of gun-related violence against women and children are a reflection of the government's failures in controlling the sale and use of firearms to the public, experts and observers told the Bangkok Post.

Their concerns followed the Nong Bua Lamphu massacre in October and another incident in which a man shot at a primary school in Ranong 18 times on Nov 27.

Guns are often abused by soldiers and police, who use them to assert their dominance over others.

When combined with alcohol and/or drug abuse, the result can be fatal.

Tackling the issue requires a multi-faceted approach, so the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security is calling for the cooperation of all stakeholders to help stem the rising tide of gun violence in the country.

Director of the Social Equality Promotion Foundation, Supensri Puengkoksung, said many offenders charged with weapons abuse seem to believe they are immune from prosecution by virtue of being linked to influential figures within the government.

As such, Ms Supensri urged women who fall victim to such offenders to stand their ground and remember they are protected under the law.

Social worker Korawin Worasuk said attempts to reform Thailand's patriarchal society must go hand in hand with lessons for youth about emotional control and the importance of respecting each other.

"We need to set up a fund to help women who are victims of domestic violence recover, physically and psychologically, and help them find careers in which they could sustain themselves and their children," she said.

Usa Lerdsrisuntad, director of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, said the voices of children and women who are victims of violence have yet to have an impact on Thailand's gun control policy.

By contrast, countries such as South Africa have reformed their policies following gun tragedies.

In South Africa, the vetting process to get a gun licence was made much stricter, requiring thorough background and behavioural checks on the applicants, including their history of violence and/or psychological problems within the family, she said, adding officials can confiscate a gun kept in a home if they are concerned about anyone's safety.

Easy to get

In Thailand, guns can be bought online, with some vendors offering to acquire a gun licence on the buyer's behalf in as little as three days, if the buyer can afford it.

Figures show that 82% of fatalities in gun-related violence are caused by illegal firearms.

Furthermore, there are currently no rules regulating the storage and/or use of legally-acquired weapons at home.

Pol Col Wirut Sirisawasdibut, secretary-general of the Institute for Justice Reform, said there are 10.3 million firearms in Thailand, 40% of which are illegal.

This roughly translates to 15 guns available for every 100,000 people, he noted.

According to a report by Small Arms Survey (SAS) released in June 2018, Thailand ranked 13th in the world in terms of private gun ownership.

While the figure is far behind the US's with 393 million guns, Thailand's neighbours have far fewer firearms relative to their population.

The Philippines has about 3.9 million guns, while Vietnam has 1.5 million.

Pol Col Wirut acknowledged incidences of weapons abuse by state officials, police and soldiers, some of whom carry their firearms into casual settings where alcohol is involved.

"The most violent cases of gun abuse were carried out by police and soldiers, so stricter control is necessary," he said, before saying guns are "safer in the hands of criminals than in the hands of corrupt police and soldiers."

Meanwhile, Pol Maj Gen Saruti Khwaengsopha, commander of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division, said the Royal Thai Police understands the importance of gun control and requires all guns issued to a state official to be registered with the Interior Ministry's Department of Provincial Administration.

Psychological issues

Dr Yongyud Wongpiromsarn, adviser to the Mental Health Department, said around 5% of perpetrators found guilty of gun-related violence are found to be suffering psychological disorders which were left untreated.

Compounded by stress, societal pressure, economic inequality, and illicit drugs, the disorders may lead to unwanted consequences, he said.

Dr Yongyud said state officials should regularly check on staff mental health to prevent a meltdown.

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