It is starting to happen to us.
Mass shootings by crazed gunmen that have become common in the United States are beginning to happen here, too. Last Friday, Jan. 4, a drug-crazed losing candidate for barangay captain in Kawit, Cavite, went on a shooting spree and killed eight people and wounded 12 others. Four of the casualties were children, aged 2 to 7. One died, Michaella Caimol, 7, while her two siblings, Ken Cedric, 3, and KC, 2, were wounded. A fourth girl, Jan Monica de Vera, 3, was also wounded. The gunman, identified as Ronald Baquiran Bae, was killed in a gunfight with policemen.
Only three days earlier, another 7-year-old girl, Stephanie Nicole Ella, was killed by a stray bullet during the New Year’s Eve revelry.
The shooting rampage in Cavite calls to mind the massacre in a grade school in the United States that left 20 children and six adults dead a few weeks earlier. The killer was a crazed 20-year-old who shot himself in the head when responding policemen arrived. There have been many other mass shootings in the United States through the years, some of them also in schools where innocent children were killed. In the Philippines, we have the Maguindanao massacre where 58 people were mowed down.
The trial of the accused in the massacre is going at a snail’s pace, as it does with most cases in Philippine courts.
There is a common denominator in the mass shootings in the United States and the Philippines: the proliferation of guns and very lax gun control laws. Every time there is a mass shooting in America, there is a clamor for a stricter gun control law, but after the mourning and the uproar die down, nothing happens. No gun control law is enacted. And when the next mass shooting happens, the same cycle is repeated.
Most Americans and top US officials, including President Barack Obama, want stricter laws to curb gun violence. But Congress does nothing beyond verbal calisthenics. Because the US legislators are afraid of a powerful progun lobby.
The National Rifle and Pistol Association (NRPA) is composed of hunters, gun enthusiasts and gun crazies. It is supported and funded by US gun manufacturers. Its main weapon is the provision in the Constitution of the “right of every American to bear arms.” This was an amendment to the Constitution and this was put there because the war for American independence against the British colonial rulers was won with the help of armed militias. The winning of the American West was also achieved with the help of guns. The gun culture is therefore a tradition in America.
Although times have changed, the gun culture remains. As a result, thousands of Americans die every year from gunshot wounds. Despite the growing toll, the NRPA has not relented. It still opposes gun controls.
Even the president of the United States, supposedly the “most powerful person in the world,” is no match to the power of the NRPA lobby.
The same thing is happening in the Philippines. With the mass shooting in the Philippines and the death of Nicole, there is now a clamor for stricter gun control regulations. Most Filipinos, including Catholic bishops, are calling for a total gun ban.
This requires legislation. But how can our Congress enact a stricter gun control law when most of the legislators themselves have their own private armies? Indeed, almost every politician here has his own army of bodyguards. And they all require guns.
Every election period, the Philippines becomes another Wild West with shootings and assassinations every so often even when there is a “total gun ban.” When will this all end?
Only when there is a real total gun ban. The alleged “total gun ban” during the election period is a farce. There are so many exceptions, foremost of which are the private armies of politicians. Yes, many shootings, like the Maguindanao massacre, are caused by politics.
Then there are the guns owned by ordinary citizens. The police place the number of licensed guns at 1.6 million. Those are only the licensed ones. There is almost the same number of unlicensed guns. The bullet that killed Nicole came from one of them.
Why this fascination of Filipinos (and Americans) with guns?
In the vicinity of the neighborhood where Nicole was hit, there are 242 licensed gun owners. And Nicole’s neighborhood is not an affluent one. And those are only the licensed ones. There must also be scores of unlicensed firearms there.
There are two gun control bills that have been rotting for years in the committee chaired by Sen. Gringo Honasan. With the latest shootings and resulting uproar, the senator has bestirred himself but said the present Congress could pass a new gun control law before it adjourns this month.
I do not hold any hope that Congress would be able to pass a law mandating a total gun ban. How can it, when most members of Congress have, as stated earlier, their own private armies, when President Aquino himself is a gun enthusiast (until now, he has been very quiet on the clamor for a total gun ban), when policemen in the Firearms and Explosives Division of the Philippine National Police act as agents for gun stores? How can we temper the craving for guns when there are periodic gun shows in the shopping malls?
Even if Congress passed a gun control law, the law would be watered down with so many amendments and exceptions that it would be practically useless.
Even the Gunless Society, which has been urging for decades the enactment of a gun control law, has practically given up.
Yet we have to do something now before we become another United States where shootings have become a part of life. It is not difficult to fashion an effective gun control law. Just look at Japan. Japan now has the lowest crime rate in the whole world.