Thailand Mulls Stricter Gun Control Following Latest Mass Shooting

BANGKOK — Authorities in Thailand say they’re planning a raft of new gun control measures in the wake of a mass shooting that has left the country reeling, though experts question how much they’ll do to stop a repeat or drive down one of Asia’s highest firearm ownership rates.


Panya Kamrab, a former police officer, stormed a child care center in Thailand’s northeast on October 6, armed with a gun and large knife. After shooting his way in, he went on a killing spree that left 36 dead, including 23 children, before heading home to kill his wife and son, then himself.


Police said Panya had been fired from the force in June for drug abuse and was due in court the next day for sentencing on an illegal narcotics possession charge. Authorities have not revealed a motive for the attack, but the tragedy has shone a spotlight on the widespread prevalence of guns and gun violence in Thailand.


The country of 69 million had 10.3 million guns in private hands — over 4 million of them unregistered — as of 2017, the latest year for which, a project of the University of Sydney, has data. That’s more than one gun for every seven Thais, the highest rate by far in Southeast Asia.

Reacting to the massacre, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha chaired a special meeting of top officials Wednesday to try to find ways to bring down both legal gun ownership and rein in a thriving black market.


Major General Achayon Kraithong, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, said the leading proposals include adding psychological evaluations to the gun licensing process and having gun owners periodically reassessed.


“Police [proposed] the idea: Before you possess the gun, you have to have the certificate from the doctor of mental health,” he told VOA. “And when you get the gun and you get the license, maybe [every] one year or two years … you have to prove by the doctor that you can have the right to [keep] the gun.”


Under the plan, a workplace supervisor or local government official would have to sign off on an applicant’s good character as well.


‘Lack of effective enforcement’


Achayon said police were also planning to step up their monitoring of illicit online gun sales and improve intelligence sharing between agencies.


They also proposed an amnesty for unlicensed gun owners. The amnesty would allow owners a window of opportunity to turn in their unregistered firearms without penalties, which can run up to 10 years in jail.


The spokesman said the details still had to be worked out and offered no timetable.


Prayut and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda broadly backed the proposals while speaking to reporters after the meeting.


Chavanut Janekarn, a criminologist and lecturer at Thailand’s Thammasat University and a 25-year veteran of the police force, said the plans would help keep guns out of at least some of the wrong hands.


“I think we should have [had] the psychological evaluation and personal evaluation for a long time before,” he told VOA. “It cannot resolve all the problems, but at least it is some source of [gun violence] prevention.”

Michael Picard, an independent firearms policy expert previously based in Thailand with, was more skeptical. He said Thailand’s existing gun licensing program was much tougher on paper than in practice and worried the same lax enforcement would follow any new rules.


“The dynamics of getting a firearms license is more that, basically, if you’re willing to pay a bribe you can jump the queue and you can maybe be rushed through certain checks that would otherwise take a long time or would maybe be done more diligently,” he said. “So, I don’t think this addresses the root cause of firearms proliferation in Thailand, which is essentially institutional corruption.”


Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University, who studies the country’s security forces, agreed.


“Thailand’s largest issue regarding the law and guns is a lack of effective enforcement of the law,” he said. “Psychologists will become shrinks-for-hire in any state-manipulated attempt to forge a facade of gun control.”


Chambers also said any amnesty program would end up being poorly enforced.


Chavanut said past amnesty drives in Thailand for guns and other contraband have suffered from a lack of interest, probably because the criminals believed the odds of getting caught were too low to scare them into coming forward.


Question of ‘overarching reform’


Picard, though, is more enthused by the proposed amnesty, having seen similar drives work in Australia and New Zealand.

He said Thailand’s own firearms amnesty in 2003 helped net some of the assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other heavier small arms that were pouring into and through the country from the many insurgencies swirling around it at the time.


Even so, Picard believes the latest proposals sidestep another fundamental flaw with Thailand’s gun control policies besides corruption: the way the government arms many of its police, soldiers and other officers.


Under a long-running “welfare guns” program, many state employees can buy a variety of firearms tax free and at discounts of as much as half the market price, including soldiers and police officers, who use the program to arm themselves for work.


Chavanut said officers and officials often use the program to stock up on weapons, hold on to them for the requisite waiting period, and sell them for a handsome profit, driving up the country’s gun ownership numbers in the process. Picard said his own research on Thailand suggested that many of the guns also end up on the black market.


Ideally, Picard added, the government would scrap the program and issue all police and soldiers the weapons they need while on duty, as in most developed countries. But Chavanut said that was practically “impossible” given the massive budget rearrangement it would take.


Police said the gun Panya used in last week’s attack was purchased through the discount program and legally owned, even months after he had been fired for drug abuse.


“That’s definitely a huge issue, and something where the government needs to … rethink the big picture,” said Picard. “This isn’t a question of tweaks; this is really a question of overarching reform.”


Source: Voice of America