Only a week old, and the year 2013 is already groaning under the weight of a terrible burden: the death, by gun, of many innocents.
Ranjilo Nemer, killed when a homemade gun accidentally went off on New Year’s Eve, was only four years old; Stephanie Nicole Ella, killed by a stray bullet fired that same night, was seven; Michaella Caimol, hit in the chest by Ronald Bae at the start of his murderous killing spree in Kawit, Cavite, on the fourth day of the year, was also seven; Jan Monica de Vera, another victim of Bae’s, was all of three.
There have been many other victims; in 30 minutes of apparently calm and casual shooting, Bae killed a total of eight victims, including Jan Monica’s 34-year-old mother Rhea, two months pregnant; he also wounded 12 more. Deadly gunfire on New Year’s Eve injured some two dozen revelers. We all mourn their passing; we all offer our prayers to the wounded—but it is the deaths of the very young children that have impressed themselves on our consciousness. They dramatize the overwhelming senselessness of the violence.
There are simply too many loose firearms in the Philippines; a recent estimate puts the total number at some 600,000. That’s half of the 1.2 million firearms that have been registered with the police. In other words, one out of every three firearms in the country is unlicensed, or “loose.”
To make matters worse, the very system of licensing and regulation is highly porous; while law-abiding gun owners file for necessary permits and bring their guns only to gun clubs and shooting ranges, many firearms still manage to float through public spaces unimpeded.
We must tighten the net of regulation.
In the first place, the right to own or carry a gun does not exist, per se, in the Philippines. Gun ownership and gun use are a privilege that the State can regulate, or even withdraw when necessary. Assert that fundamental principle.
Secondly, the country has had a long experience with gun bans, which are in place during election season. No gun ban has ever stopped a determined assassin, and Philippine elections continue to suffer from too much violence, but consider the alternative: How much higher would the casualty tolls be after election day if no gun ban were in effect? Learn the lessons of experience.
Thirdly, consider making gun bans permanent. Allow only qualified persons—from the military, police, security forces—to carry firearms in public. That is the only way to go.
AS WE all push for stricter gun controls, we must also beware of misleading or less-than-useful interventions. To cite two examples:
The information that Bae was high on drugs at the time of the killings seems to have entrenched the positions of those who traditionally oppose a total gun ban. Sen. Tito Sotto, for example, said the focus of government effort should be on controlling illegal drug use.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said, should be given more funds, “so it could upgrade its anti-drug operations. There should also be more coordination and synchronization in the efforts of all agencies involved in the fight against illegal drugs.”
We are not against giving the PDEA the funds it needs, but Sotto does not seem to have considered the matter thoroughly: If guns were not easily available, how many people would a drugged Bae have managed to kill with, say, a bolo or a knife?
Another senator, Bong Revilla of Cavite, has accused the Calabarzon regional police director of increasing the casualty toll in Bae’s killing spree through his “unilateral” decision to reshuffle Cavite police officials.
“The new officers [Chief Superintendent James] Melad assigned to the province knew nothing and were unfamiliar with places there. That’s obvious in their response to the emergency,” Revilla charged in a written statement.
It is important to determine exactly what happened in that fateful hour in Kawit last Friday, and what the police did and didn’t do, but Revilla’s tirade seems to be fueled by internal (that is, provincial) politics. It’s best he doesn’t get in the way.