In the eyes of many people, Thailand is a “Buddha country in yellow robes” and a tourist destination.
However, on October 6th, a burst of gunfire in Nongmo Lamphu, northeastern Thailand, shattered people’s imaginations. Pan Ya, a former police officer who was fired for taking drugs, broke into a local nursery school, slashed and killed the young children who were taking a lunch break with a knife, and then shot the school teacher with a gun. Many people then went home and shot their wives and children before shooting themselves. This “indiscriminate shooting” massacre that shocked the world has caused 38 deaths and more than 10 injuries. Among the dead were 24 children, the youngest only two years old, and a nursery teacher who was eight months pregnant.
This tragedy is not an isolated case. On February 8, 2020, on the day of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Festival in Thailand, a soldier named Jakapan was bullied and blackmailed by his boss and shot indiscriminately at passers-by in a shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima, northeastern Thailand, killing a total of 30 people. killed and 58 injured. There have been many more shootings in Thailand over the years, big and small.
One tragic mass shooting case after another has stabbed the nerves of the people, and it has also made the Thai government reflect on the loopholes in gun management in Thailand.
Thailand ranks first in ASEAN in gun ownership
It was noted that the killer was a former police officer who had been fired by the government but still carried a gun. You are no longer a police officer, so why can you still carry guns?
According to the data disclosed by the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss research institute, Thailand has the largest number of guns and the largest number of guns per capita among ASEAN countries.
In 2017, there were more than 800 million firearms in the world. The United States is the country with the largest number of guns, with 393 million. Thailand has a population of 68 million, and private ownership of guns is 10.342 million. In other words, 15 out of every 100 Thais have a gun, or one in every seven. Of these, 6.22 million are registered firearms, while the remaining 4 million are unregistered. Among the registered firearms were 3.745 million short guns and 2.475 million long guns. Many gun shops are located in the downtown area, and the guns and accessories in the shops are dazzling. Firearms in Thailand can also be traded online. After selecting a gun on a shopping website, paying the fee, you can wait at home to receive the goods.
gun control in name only
Although from an institutional point of view, the Thai government has strict management methods for guns, in reality, the government often “opens one eye and closes one eye” to private ownership of guns.
Let’s start with the question about registering firearms. Gun owners must first apply for registration and obtain a license at a government agency above the county level. Otherwise, according to Article 72 of the Firearms Law promulgated in 1947, illegal possession of firearms or ammunition is a crime and will be punished by 1 to 10 years. Imprisonment and a fine of 200-20,000 baht (1 baht is about 0.2 yuan). A permit is required to hold firearms and to purchase ammunition. A P3 permit is required for gun owners to purchase personal firearms and ammunition, a P4 permit is required for gun owners to use firearms and ammunition, and a P12 permit is required for carrying firearms (this type of permit is issued by the Ministry of the Interior to civil servants) and firearms licenses for government officials for the scope of work and the protection of life and property). In addition, applicants must be at least 20 years old, have a fixed residence, stable income, and no criminal record, and meet these conditions to be eligible to apply for a gun license.
In addition, the Thai government implements a quota system for the firearms of public servants and is exempt from import taxes, so it will be cheaper than the market, with a price of about 40,000 to 50,000 baht each. At gun stores in the market, the average price of each pistol is around 90,000 baht.
Most of the firearms of the Thai police need to be purchased at their own expense, even if the police use firearms to perform official duties. The reason is that the government budget is insufficient, and the number of public servants far exceeds the quota of public funds to carry guns.
For Thai civil servants, especially the military and police, preferential policies to buy guns at below-market prices have created a breeding ground for corruption and other gun-related issues. They can buy guns so easily and cheaply that they own far more guns than they need to perform their duties, in other words, each can buy and hold multiple guns, and guns flow to the market. There are usually two ways for these guns to flow to the market: one is to the domestic market, and for sale in Thailand, the gun registration number needs to be scratched, removed or destroyed; the other is to sell in neighboring countries, the gun can be registered, and it is necessary to avoid scratching and leaving behind traces, affecting its secondary sales.
Thais pray at a temple for the victims of the nursery shooting.
The government has also made three regulations on the use of guns: to defend one’s life and property, for sports, and for hunting. In addition, there are relative regulations for the storage or collection of firearms, such as old or unusable firearms, antique firearms and other old firearms, and firearms used in official shooting competitions. However, the binding force of the various regulations is very limited.
There is also a tradition of making guns in rural Thailand in remote areas, using homemade guns for hunting or self-defense. Such firearms are also classified as legal firearms if they are declared to the government during the government registration process. Interestingly, on social media in Thailand, videos of professors making guns are easy to find, with detailed steps and extremely maneuverable.
It can be seen that the proliferation of guns in Thailand has both loopholes in government management and private tricks. But both the government and the private sector have largely ignored the mental health testing, monitoring and management of gun owners.
Social challenges facing gun control
The continuous outbreak of massacres involving guns has sounded the alarm for the “Huangpao Buddha Country”. Brazil is the country with the most gun deaths (about 49,000), followed by the United States (more than 37,000), according to a survey of countries with the most gun deaths heading into 2022, published by the World Population Review website. The rest were followed by Mexico (22,118), India (14,712), Colombia (13,171), and the Philippines (9,267, the largest number of gun deaths among ASEAN countries). Thailand ranked 15th with 2,804 people.
While strongly condemning the shooting incident, all walks of life in Thailand have also launched a big discussion on social issues such as gun control, and the military, police and experts have also proposed some countermeasures.
However, it must be noted that in addition to the loopholes in the gun management system under the incentive of huge profits, Thailand still has many problems in dealing with gun-related cases.
The first is geography. Thailand is an underground trading hub for the arms trade in the Southeast Asian region. The private demand for guns in the surrounding areas is not small, and Cambodia and Vietnam are very strict about gun management. Therefore, driven by huge profits, the underground arms trade in Thailand is booming.
The second is the drug problem. Subsequent reports on the incident revealed that the perpetrator had been abusing drugs since high school, which may directly affect the brain’s thinking and decision-making, coupled with the pressure and frustration of being fired, and ultimately led to the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. At present, Thailand is actively promoting the legalization of marijuana. Whether more young people will commit crimes due to smoking marijuana will be a new challenge for Thai society.
Again, there are psychosocial issues. The two aforementioned tragedies that shocked the world both occurred in northeastern Thailand. This area is an area with relatively complete preservation of traditional Thai culture, and it has always been known for its simple folk customs. But right here, there are tragedies in the world one after another. As the least developed socio-economically developed region in Thailand, the northeastern region has been hit the most during the COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of urban migrant workers have been forced to return to their hometowns, making life difficult. In addition, the friction between urban culture and traditional local culture has further exacerbated the imbalance of mentality. It is easy to cause an overreaction. Some scholars suggest that a mental health examination must be carried out before the issuance of a gun license, and that those who fail to pass will refuse to issue a license, and then there are regular psychological tests and examinations for public officials such as military and police who need to use guns at any time.
At present, the problem of gun control in Thailand is far from being solved by the tough gun control battle launched by Prime Minister Prayuth. For quite a long time, Thai society is likely to endure the magical reality of the coexistence of Buddha horns and gunfire.