As the death toll in Thailand’s horrific mass shooting incident climbs, questions over the country’s pervasive gun culture are again making rounds. LIVE UPDATES
In what has emerged as a mind boggling case of mass shooting, a Thai gunman killed his family and himself after shooting dead 32 people including 23 children at a nursery in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday. Police colonel Jakkapat Vijitraithaya from Nong Bua Lam Phu province said the gunman went home and killed his wife and child after the mass shooting.
However, such incidents are not uncommon in Thailand. News18 explains the country’s gun violence and the ‘lack’ of reforms around firearms:
Easy for Civilians to Own Firearms
According to a research conducted by the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, there were approximately 10 million privately owned firearms in the country in 2017, with an estimated 4 million of them being illegal, said a report by Asean Today.
The report, written in 2020, highlighted a spate of tragic shooting incidents, including one that killed 29 people, calling to question why an ordinary Thai citizen with a personal vendetta can so easily obtain a firearm and kill dozens of civilians.
“I can’t say whether Thailand has a gun problem, but it certainly has a gun culture,” Michael Picard, Research Director of GunPolicy.org of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health told Reuters.
“Guns are idolized as symbols of power and privilege, as they are expensive and not easy to legally obtain.”
Strict Gun Control on Paper, but Reality Different
Thailand appears to have strict gun control laws on paper, the report explains. Carrying illegal firearms carries a prison sentence of up to ten years, comprehensive background checks are required, and each gun licence allows for only one firearm. Nonetheless, lax enforcement, combined with widespread corruption among police officers, has resulted in a thriving underworld.
Many people easily get around the law, even buying guns on social media. Some believe that platforms like Facebook promote the sale of firearms. A secondhand item; 38 Smith & Wesson can be easily purchased online for around US$600 (20,000 baht), the report says.
Firearms ranging from handguns to low-powered rifles are frequently smuggled in through the Thai-Cambodian border and sold for half the price of a legal weapon. In addition, during the pandemic, firearm imports into Thailand have increased. “An emerging means of acquiring illegal firearms in Thailand is through social media platforms,” Picard had said. “This has made it even easier to acquire an illegal firearm, as essentially anyone can do it as long as they have an internet connection and a bank account.”
Nonetheless, authorities claim that the number of gun-related deaths is decreasing, nearly halving between 2014 and 2016.
“Gun-related crimes have not increased,” Deputy police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told Reuters. “There are crimes that involve no weapon, and crimes that involve knives, guns and batons and they all can kill people. It’s just that the (gun-related) incidents have been happening around the same time.”
With the exception of the Philippines, Thailand continues to have far more deaths than its Southeast Asian counterparts. Despite having only about one-third of Thailand’s gun ownership rates, the Philippines has 9.20 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, compared to Thailand’s 3.71, Asean Today reported.
Thailand has a civilian gun ownership rate of 15.1 per 100 people, which is significantly higher than neighbouring Myanmar’s rate of 1.6, Cambodia’s rate of 4.5, and Laos’ rate of 3.0. Many Thais purchase a firearm for personal protection and to counteract the ineffectiveness of law enforcement. Gang warfare and drug-related crimes are also said to fuel the country’s gun culture.
With inputs from Reuters