At Large

Time to act is now

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Gunshots served to welcome the year—gunshots that killed a total of nine innocents and 13 others whom law enforcers described as “members of a big criminal group.”

Before the shootout in Quezon, it was the utter randomness of the shootings that chilled to the bone. As many know by now, Stephanie Nicole Ella had stepped out of her home in Caloocan during the New Year’s Eve revelry along with other members of her family when she fell with a gunshot wound in her head. In an effort to pinpoint the shooter, police searched for all the gun owners in her neighborhood and found—would you believe?—242 registered gun owners in the area. A later audit brought the number down to 32, corresponding to the number of owners of .45 cal. hand guns, the gun type identified as having been used in the 7-year-old girl’s fatal shooting. Say what you will, but I don’t think Stephanie Nicole’s shooter is going to be found anytime soon.

And then three days later, a drug-and-drink-addled man by the name of Ronald Bae (with his houseboy accomplice) wandered the streets and alleys of his neighborhood in Kawit, Cavite, and began shooting at random. Among those shot were the children of a couple whom he knew well enough as to stand as godfather to a daughter of theirs, one of those he shot although fortunately she survived.

In all Bae in his drugged-and-drunk state killed a total of eight people, while wounding 12 others, before he was himself gunned down by responding police.

The 13 men killed by police and soldiers in Quezon were said to be aboard two vehicles that crashed through a checkpoint between Plaridel and Atimonan towns and then exchanged fire with the lawmen. Details were still sketchy, news reports said.

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I’m sure the above details paint only a partial picture of the bigger scenario around the country. Who knows how many more people— innocents, criminals, rebels or law enforcers— died as a result of gunshots within this first week of 2013 alone?

One thing seems clear, far too many people have been dying because of guns—wielded by gun owners, to be sure—in this country.

Before this spate of shootings, our horror at the damage done by gun-wielding maniacs was from a far remove, from the most recent mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 27, including the shooter, were killed. Twenty of the dead were children.

Some even tsk-tsked at the situation in the United States where the Sandy Hook shooter and others implicated in other mass killings had easy access not just to guns and high-powered weapons but even to ammunition, which they could buy online. But we seem to forget how easy it is to acquire a gun here, and how rules and requirements for obtaining a license and permit to carry are followed only in the breach. As one commentator said, the neighborhood where Stephanie Nicole lived was by no means affluent, and yet guns were quite common there. Which says a lot about our delusional sense of safety in the metropolis. When guns are so readily available, then everybody’s life is in danger.

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In this light, a statement issued by the Philippine Action Network to Control Arms (PhilANCA) proves quite timely.

“How many more lives will be claimed in this country where private arms ownership is placed at 4.2 million… and where (the number of) loose firearms is placed at 1.1 million by the Philippine National Police?” ask the signatories.

The group cites a study showing that places with higher rates of gun ownership have “significantly higher rates of homicide.” “It is not surprising then that in the Philippines, approximately 16-20 people die from gun violence every day.”

PhilANCA calls for “stricter gun control to abate gun violence,” citing what it calls “the ambivalent stance of the government regarding civilian gun ownership” as having created “a legal regime that has become too lax on the number of guns in the hands of civilians, as well as the type and caliber (of guns) one can own.” They declare: “We need a more decisive hand from the national government to address gun violence.”

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The group suggests five steps that need to be taken if the government is to significantly reduce the number of guns—licensed or not— and the incidence of gun violence.

First, PhilANCA says, laws and regulations on civilian acquisition and ownership of firearms need to be strictly implemented. “Do existing neuropsychological exams required for gun licensing truly measure the applicant’s mental and psychological fitness?” PhilANCA asks. “Laws on gun possession… must be reviewed to determine if they satisfy the necessary measures to ensure that guns do not fall in the wrong hands. Likewise, stiffer penalties for violations must be enacted.”

The statement likewise calls for the revocation of EO 164 which allows “civilians’ possession of unlimited number of firearms of any type and caliber.” (Good luck, given our gun-loving President.)

The group also urges the government to “strengthen its support” for the adoption of a “robust” Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations, especially one that “would include ammunition in the scope of weapons that will be regulated.”

Fourth, the statement calls on government “to design and implement a program that will effectively round up loose and illegal firearms,” which, it said, have “largely facilitated” the commission of crimes. Finally, says PhilANCA, “we call on the government to put in place an extended total gun ban—not only during the 2013 election period but for the entire 2013.”

PhilANCA’s final words have a chilling certainty and urgency: “The time to act is now.”

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