I did say last time out that the worry is that this country being wont to copy American fads with colonial ferocity, even murderous ones, we could always find ourselves in the grip of a Sandy-Hook-type horror. But I did say as well that that worry wasn’t all that urgent, we still had a culture that militated against the kind of alienation that could induce someone to massacre schoolchildren in cold blood.
Then just a couple of weeks later came Ronald Bae. Witnesses would say later he just snapped one fine day and, along with his alalay, John Paul Lopez, started shooting everyone in sight. It started when Bae asked three kids the whereabouts of someone he appeared to be hunting down. When the kids said they didn’t know, he went into a rage, whipped out his .45, and began firing at them. Two of the kids survived, among them a 4-year-old boy who was Bae’s godson. Their sister, a 7-year-old, did not.
From there Bae went on a rampage, walking from house to house all the way to the wet market, shooting everyone he met or saw. Lopez reloaded his gun every time he ran out of bullets. After half an hour, Bae went home after killing eight people and wounding 12, the wounded including four children. Responding police arrived at his house, but he fired at them as soon as they got there. The police fired back, and after a brief gunbattle, killed Bae. Lopez fled but surrendered a few hours later.
If Sandy Hook hadn’t happened, this would have had a far more horrific impact, involving as it does the wanton slaying of children along with adults. During the reunions last Christmas, people were telling me how incomprehensible it was that anyone would think to shoot down children. An incomprehensibility that made some of them look for unearthly reasons. Evil like this, they said, could only come from the Prince of Darkness. The more earthly confined themselves to saying that with our ardent devotion to faith and family, Sandy Hook is unlikely to happen to us.
Well, it has, or a semblance of it. The local progun camp, which can be, and has been, as vociferous as the National Rifle Association in the United States will very likely put the blame on the proliferation of drugs in this country. According to the police, Bae and Lopez had been taking huge quantities of shabu, along with huge quantities of alcohol, the night before. Of course there’s that too, the deluge of drugs in this country is alarming, and heinous crimes, which have grown plentifully over the years, owe in great part to it. Some of them are positively revolting at least in quality if not in quantity, such as an adolescent girl being stabbed to a bloody pulp after being raped, with the criminal explaining his unexplainable behavior afterward as the result of being in the throes of shabu. Drugs kill, and not just the person taking them, and something truly ought to be done about it.
But guns kill too, as we’ve been seeing ferociously of late, and something ought even more to be done about it. The same question Americans have been asking in the wake of Sandy Hook we ought to be asking ourselves in the wake of Bae’s copycat massacre, indeed in the wake of Stephanie Nicole’s death: Do we need to have a friend or relative or, heaven forbid, our boy or girl taken away from us to do something about the proliferation of guns?
The notion that guns do not kill, people do, is vapid. A club kills too, but not as easily as a .45 does. A knife kills too, but not as plentifully as an assault rifle does. Crime doesn’t just involve motive, it involves means and opportunity. You can’t have any better means and opportunity to massacre than with guns. You need an Attila the Hun to wreak havoc with axes. You need only a quiet, neglected, scorned, oppressed and troubled weakling to wreak havoc with guns.
The problem is not just loose firearms, and government misses the target (to use a shooting metaphor) to continue to harp on it. The problem is the proliferation of firearms, loose or tight. What, if we just manage to seize all the loose firearms, all the unlicensed firearms, all the unregistered firearms, we’ll be fine, these things wouldn’t happen? What makes us think people like Bae use loose firearms? What makes us think the murderous idiots who fired their guns last New Year’s Day, bato-bato sa langit, used unlicensed firearms? What makes us think the people who are crazed by drugs, or worse than drugs, by power, wield only unregistered firearms? The opposite is probably true.
A friend recently gave me to glimpse how worrisome the spread of firearms is. Look, he said, the Philippine National Police has just spent billions to buy firearms to modernize crime-fighting. What do you think will happen to the old firearms they’ll replace? I do know myself that an entire insurgency movement subsisted on agaw-armas. They didn’t get the bulk of their arms from outside, they got them inside—from their enemies. Hell, the Ampatuans themselves got a good many of them from the military.
I don’t mind if P-Noy does a Marcos at least in this respect and ordered private individuals, particularly private armies, to surrender their weapons, loose or tight—the registered ones to be retained only with drastic limitations in quantity and quality—to the camps. The confiscated hoard to be sold off to buy milk and medicine, books and blackboards. That, not quite incidentally, is also what’s profoundly evil about the proliferation of guns: It doesn’t just cost lives in the number of people, including children, it directly kills, it costs lives in the number of people, the children most of all, it deprives the life of the body and the life of the mind. You can’t have anything more damnably murderous.
You can’t have anything more damnably wasteful.