Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Gun Debate Goes International

In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 photo, a Japanese shotgun enthusiast takes a test to renew his license on a shooting range in Ooi, at the foot of Mount Fuji. In this country, guns are few and far between. And so is gun violence. Guns were used in only seven murders in Japan - a nation of about 130 million - in all of 2011, the most recent year for official statistics. According to police, more people - nine - were murdered with scissors. (AP Photo/Eric Talmadge)

Around the World Gun Rules Vary Wildly (Click link to read article)

As the gun control debate rages on, new opinions pop up every day.  As a Third Culture Kid, my mind wanders outside of my own borders, instead of looking at it from a one-dimensional perspective.  This article by AP’s Eric Talmadge talks about gun regulation in Japan, Switzerland and Brazil.  Of course there are huge variables in play: different cultures, different histories, different constitutions.  Perhaps by looking at the issue through global glasses we might be able to find some answers.  We aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue. 

The Philippines used to be an American “protectorate” and there are many facets of the Philippine culture that bears an American trademark.  Like its gun culture.  The Philippines hasn’t been immune from gun violence: In 2010 a disgruntled former policeman took a busload of tourists hostage in a misguided attempt to get his job back.  The outcome was tragic: eight of the hostages killed, the gunman killed, many more injured. 

Members of the Philippine national police force display their taped-up gun barrels in Manila, intended to prevent any the gunfire that has plagued the country every New Year. The taping will ensure that any policeman who fires his gun into the air on New Year's eve will be found out, said the national police chief.
I invited a classmate from IS Manila, Chris Frondoso, to give me insight into the present debate in the Philippines about gun violence.  It’s important that we broaden our thought process.  I still posit that it is more than just guns in play here; it’s a complex issue, not black and white like many try to make it.  Among many other things, like crime and drugs, there is a huge mental health element that needs to be addressed:

Chris Frondoso
Ever since the Connecticut incident the pro and anti gun lobbyists have been arguing in America about whether there is a need for firearms in civilian hands. There have been numerous warnings that the newly re-elected Obama administration may be working on plans to ban certain firearms and limit the capacity of magazines. This has received worldwide attention.

On the other side of the world across the Pacific, in the former US administered territory which is now the Republic of the Philippines, a similar debate is now raging. The question of private ownership and the carrying of firearms, and the system that regulates such, is once again under scrutiny.

There is no constitutional or statutory grant of the right to have arms in the Philippines. It is considered a legal privilege, with each firearm having to be licensed and registered with a process that requires an applicant to present clearances from different government agencies such as the police, the prosecutors and the courts. One must also be psychologically fit to possess and use.  To carry a firearm in a manner similar to the CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) practice, one must have a permit to carry. Sports men and target shooters may also acquire transport permits to carry their arms to hunt or target shoot. All these permits must be renewed periodically.

Generally as long as you have legal employment and no criminal record you are deemed fit to hold and possess firearms, provided you comply with the legal process.  The regulation and enforcement of the firearms laws is handled by the Firearm and Explosive Office of the Philippine National Police, which is the successor of the US-established Paramilitary Constabulary.  A percentage of police revenue comes from licensing and registration fees.

On a comparative basis with regards to the implementation and practice of firearm control, the Philippines is stricter than the State of Texas but more liberal than New York City, Washington DC, and Chicago, Illinois.

The debate here in the Philippines recently began anew right after the New Years Eve festivities when a little girl was shot and later died because of a stray bullet.  It is thought that the bullet was fired by a New Years reveler who shot into the air.  There were reports of many other victims hit by random gunfire.  The authorities investigated the case by checking the ballistics of registered firearm holders in the vicinity of the girl’s residence. The media reported that there was no match and law enforcers have said that the gun was illegally possessed.

The next incident was a shooting rampage in which a man who was a former district official of a town known as Barangay Kagawaad shot his friends and neighbors, killing ten people and wounding seven.  The shooter and shooting was an incident waiting to happen.  The man, who was killed by responding police, reportedly also fired his gun during the New Year’s festivities.  He was reported to the local district but the police did not act on the reports.  As per the media, further investigation into the subject revealed that he only reappeared recently in the town.  He had disappeared for a year, since he was the defendant in a legal case for possessing drugs, had been investigated for two unsolved killings.  He was also reported as a wife beater.  As a former government official, he was entitled to possess firearms, and in fact in the police database had three listed in his name with expired licenses/registration.  He chose to shoot the victims with an unregistered 45, locally termed as a “loose firearm,” which could not be traced to him or anybody else. 

Many say there was a failure of the system to see a red flag. Concerned legal firearm dealers and officials of Pro-gun (which is the local lobby group for firearm holders) sent representatives to the wakes of several victims to offer legal and financial assistance.  The families of the victims stated that there were forces at play trying to sweep this under the rug since it may call attention to the drug trafficking in the area and the corruption that goes with it.

A strange peculiarity is that during the election period (which covers the first half of 2013), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dictates who can carry firearms. High government officials and their security details can carry firearms.  The police, military, other law enforcement and accredited government and private security groups are also allowed to carry.  The average civilian is not allowed to carry even for reasons of self-defense. What is ironic is that there are numerous reports of crimes and violence and Pro-gun reports that there have been 300 plus violent incidents with 157 injured and 313 fatalities for January 2013.  They say the criminals know many people have no means of defense when traveling in the street.  (Italics are mine … Liz.)

While many think banning the carrying of firearms or even banning firearms outright is the answer, the Philippines is plagued by many social ills that give rise to these violent incidents.  Add to this the corruption, incompetence and the limited resources of the police and legal system. What a frightening scenario this is.

Outside the urban areas, where lawlessness is common, rural areas are like the Wild West.  Political groups, criminals, ideological rebels … etc., are a strong presence and will use force to get what they want.  In the past civilians have been restricted from carrying firearms, which had little or no effect on criminals since there was lack of enforcement and considerable corruption in the legal system.

One problem is that many of those in power, the military and the police and other security forces, have a long history of abuse.  Human rights abuses ranging from violation of civil rights all the way to killings have been ongoing.

It has been said that the gun is being used as a scapegoat. In the Philippines what we need is to clean the social system and government. Instead of ban the gun let us instead work on jailing the criminals.

Chris is a 1989 graduate of the International School in Manila.  He has worked in the media, public relations and legal fields.  

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