As I See It

Too many guns in private hands

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AS PREDICTED in Wednesday’s column, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) issued press releases after the New Year’s Eve mayhem that the total number of firecracker-related injuries is “less” than that of last year, patted themselves on the back, and claimed that this was due to their “successful” antifirecracker campaigns. Big deal! There were still 675 injuries caused by firecrackers, 20 from stray bullets, two of which were fatal. That does not include the deaths and injuries and properties lost in fires caused by firecrackers. As stated previously, even one death or injury is one too many. If the DOH and PNP were successful at all, there should have been zero casualty, as allegedly happened in Davao City.

Talk and press releases will not save hundreds of our countrymen from death and injuries before 2014 comes in. Action will. A total ban on firecrackers will not do it, either. I repeat, it will be like King Canute ordering the waves to stop at his feet. There will still be clandestine backyard firecracker factories, and fireworks from other countries will be smuggled into the Philippines. It will be like the total logging ban. There is a total ban nationwide, but forest trees are still being massacred. Look at the photographs of those villages destroyed by floods. There are many logs floating in the water. They were illegally cut in the mountains of Mindanao, were washed down the mountainsides by the rampaging waters, and acted as battering rams that destroyed the houses, schools, bridges and other infrastructure in the lowlands.

It will be like the smuggling of cigarettes years ago, and the present smuggling of rice, meat and other products. The Bureau of Customs and the Coast Guard are notorious for not being able to stop smuggling under their noses. Remember when smuggled cigarettes were being sold at every street corner in the Philippines? That will also happen when there is a total ban on firecrackers. The firecrackers will also come from the same countries as smuggled cigarettes.

And what about guns in the hands of irresponsible owners? The number of casualties from stray bullets is increasing. There are 41 reported cases, two of them fatal, both of the fatalities innocent children. The Inquirer’s front-page photograph yesterday of Stephanie Nicole Ella, together with her 5-year-old brother and three cousins, taken just before the New Year’s Eve revelry, is particularly heart-rending.

The photograph shows Nicole and her cousins smiling, just before a stray bullet hit her in the head. Nicole was beautiful. She could have been a beauty queen or a movie star had she been given the chance to grow up. Now all that potential is gone because of one crazy gun owner who fired his gun into the air, not caring that it may hit somebody when it falls back to earth.

The police are currently going around in circles trying to find that irresponsible gun owner, now a criminal. The police claim they have arrested 18 trigger-happy individuals, but none of them is accused of firing the gun that killed Nicole.

This is not the first time that stray bullets have killed people. Every year, there are always fatalities or injuries from stray bullets. None of those bullets came from police guns, if we are to believe police releases. The police again made a big show of removing the tapes sealing the barrels of PNP service firearms. None of them has been fired, so the police claim. Is that true? That is only the police PRO speaking. It is possible that the bullet that killed Nicole came from a police service firearm, but we will never know because the PNP statement already cleared all policemen.

If it is not the police, then those stray bullets could have been fired only from the guns of soldiers or private gun owners. The military is quiet on that score. That leaves the private gun owners, which is likely. The question is: Which one?

If the bullet is recovered, then it could be matched with the ballistics records of the PNP. But there would be records only when the gun is registered. If it is not, then there would be no record. And according to police statistics, there are more loose firearms than legal ones in the Philippines.

Which means that the PNP should work harder to have loose firearms registered—perhaps offering an amnesty—and be more strict in issuing firearm permits. Experience has shown that there are very many people who legally own guns but are not mentally qualified to possess them. In fact, a number of them are now in prison for having killed someone with their licensed firearm.

We need a law that will drastically curtail gun possession. The trouble is that our legislators, like their counterparts in the US Congress, do not want strict gun laws because they themselves have their own private armies. Show me a politician or a public official who does not have one or more bodyguards, and I will show you an angel.

Our officials, especially the President, should face the fact that we have too many guns in private hands, and that it is time to do something about it. Let us not wait until we have mass shootings like those happening more frequently in the United States. We already have the beginnings of it in the Maguindanao massacre. Let us not have another one.

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Ha ha ha, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), after almost three decades of existence, is throwing in the towel in the pursuit of the loot of President Ferdinand Marcos and his family and cronies. Imelda et al. are laughing. In 26 years of hunting, PCGG officials probably pocketed more money in the form of salaries and allowances than what they have recovered.

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