In the wake of a devastating shooting at a shopping center in Bangkok, resulting in two casualties, unprecedentedly stringent gun control measures are being put into place by the Thai authorities. Thailand’s National Police Chief, Torsak Sukvimol, highlighted this on Wednesday following the tragic incident. The shooter, a teenager, used a converted firearm, initially made to discharge blank rounds, hence not initially classified as a lethal weapon, likely procured online.
The juvenile shooter is currently facing criminal charges and is held in a detention center for the underaged, where he will receive psychiatric evaluation. Alarmingly, there are over 10,000 of these legally brought in firearms, converted later into deadly weapons, in Thailand. Police and other government bodies are collaborating to have them reclassified as deadly firearms, thereby blocking an easy channel for their import.
The former police officer and presently a criminologist at Rangsit University, Kritsanapong Phutrakul, disclosed explicitly that the conversion of a blank gun is illicit, illustrating that while learning how to do so is not particularly challenging, it is criminal. In the recent incident, the modification was reportedly aided by a YouTube video. Several varieties of blank guns were made available on Southeast Asia’s dominant e-commerce platforms, Lazada and Shopee, at starting prices of roughly 5,000 baht when checked by Reuters on Wednesday. Both online platforms have yet to respond to inquiries from Reuters.
There are lessons that we have learned from the previous incidents of mass shootings. Thai authorities have the capacity to enhance gun control by introducing a faster mechanism to block websites and online services that offer sales or modifications of firearms. A political commitment to long-term gun control is also indispensable, according to Kritsanapong. Onion this, Pol Gen Torsak confirmed a team being put together to crack down on illegal internet sales of firearms.
The domestic laws cite a maximum imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of 20,000 baht for the possession of illegal firearms. Gun laws have been made more rigorous following mass shootings in recent years. Also, those seeking to buy a gun or renew a gun license now have to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation.
Last year in October, a former police officer killed 35 people, including 22 children, at a nursery in Nong Bua Lam Phu in northeastern Thailand. Another horrific incident dates back to 2020 when a soldier opened fire killing at least 29 people in Nakhon Ratchasima. Post the shooting incident in October, an amnesty bill was proposed by the former government which would allow people possessing unregistered guns to come forth and register those weapons. Unfortunately, the proposed bill didn’t make it past the parliament before the general elections in May.
Recent revelations by a Bloomberg investigation show the gunman used a Sig Sauer P365, a semi-automatic weapon in the Nong Bua Lam Phu attacks. The said weapon is among the increasing count of rifles and handguns exported by American gun manufacturers tied to violent crimes. The problem is not just the smuggling of firearms, but online sales also pose a significant menace, says Kritsanapong. After Tuesday’s calamity, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin ordered the police to enforce laws strictly related to online weapons purchases.
Finally, Pol Gen Torsak asserted that suppressing gun-related crime has always been a priority for the police. Over the past two years, the police have seized more than 900 weapons and charged offenders in more than 2,000 cases. He further added data from the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) suggests a growing popularity of blank firearms among students, which is a cause for concern. Thus, gun control measures are being coordinated with the Department of Provincial Administration to regulate the import of blank firearms by considering them as real guns.
It’s not surprising that Thailand ranks 13th globally in small gun ownership, as reported by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey in 2017. An estimated 10.3 million firearms owned by the Thai populace, a mere 6.2 million of which are registered. This equates to around 15 firearms per 100 Thai population. Such shocking statistics underscore the urgent need for comprehensive but pragmatic gun control measures.
In conclusion, while tightening gun control legislation is a step in the right direction, the efficacy of these measures will be determined by their consistent implementation. To truly address the problem of gun violence, a multifaceted approach that includes reforming online weapon sales, improving enforcement, and investing in social services may be required. Whether Thailand’s current efforts will lead to a decrease in gun violence remains to be seen.