At the mercy of the gun

The bizarre incident that took place on Jan. 22 in a municipal trial court in Cebu City, in which a Canadian retiree shot down his neighbor and the latter’s lawyer, compounds the sense of things coming unhinged in a nation at the mercy of the gun. The fact that the incident took place in a courtroom, at a time a firearms ban was being implemented by the Commission on Elections because of the election season, is confounding and, at the same time, alarming. What is our world coming to?

Two days after the nationwide gun ban kicked off last Jan. 15, a rice trader was shot dead in Marikina City, leading several quarters to wonder whether the prohibition would be enough to prevent election-related violence. If it couldn’t be prevented in the courts where guns are supposed to be banned, election or not, how much more in everyday danger-fraught streets?

Lax security should account for how John Pope, a retired Canadian journalist in his late 60s, who had been living in Cebu for 14 years, was able to bring his firearm inside the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 6. The oversight proved deadly for Pope’s victims—his courtroom opponent, Dr. Rene Rafols, 57, and the physician’s lawyer, Juvian Achas, 59. Rafols had filed several complaints of malicious mischief against Pope, for allegedly harassing him because of a petty neighborhood dispute. Last Tuesday, before the opening of the hearing, Pope walked casually inside the courtroom, went directly behind Rafols and Achas and shot them at close range.

Pope himself appeared to have been a person coming unhinged, his increasingly bizarre behavior a source of unease for Rafols, who had complained at one time that the Canadian had barged into his clinic and pointed a gun at him. A case of illegal possession of firearms against Pope had in fact been dismissed; but it was not in connection with his dispute with Rafols. He had also a pending case of violence against women and children in the regional trial court. Considering his courtroom flare-up last Tuesday, everything that had happened before seemed to have built up into that one final bloodbath! Cornered and shot in the leg by the police, Pope committed suicide.

But the case is by no means closed. As he was trying to escape, Pope shot Assistant City Prosecutor Maria Theresa Casiño, 40, who was hit in the head below the ear. Casiño’s maimed figure should embody the horrors of the nation in which anarchy obtains because of loose firearms. How such state of things has come to pass should be laid squarely at the feet of the police and government which have been wishy-washy about the issue of loose firearms and gun trafficking. It should be laid squarely at the feet of the Comelec and the agencies it has deputized to enforce the gun ban. It should be laid squarely at the feet of President Aquino who, amid public uproar over the innocent deaths due to illegal discharge of guns last New Year’s Eve, of Stephanie Nicole Ella, 7, and Ranjilo Nemer, 4, insensitively asked the Comelec for a gun ban exemption.

All of these violent deaths should provide the nation an appreciation of the explosive condition that obtains when loose firearms are allowed to thrive and gun-bearing in public is amply permitted. Even the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 could now be better appreciated as an incident fueled by a regime of loose firearms and private armies.

Even more shockingly, the spate of horrible shooting incidents should cumulatively provide the country its own Colorado and Connecticut experiences, or something close to them. But the difference is that while these terrifying incidents have so traumatized the United States that there’s now a snowballing movement for gun control, and the government there—despite the strong progun lobby—has shown enough sensitivity to listen to calls along that line, here in the Philippines, the country’s leaders have not only resisted calls for gun control, they have simply ignored them.

To recall, the President, in asking for official exemption from the election gun ban, invoked his right to self-defense and personal security. How someone who has his own security command—and who, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, is in fact the most protected person in the country—could sow fear for personal security in the public square should provide the instructive lesson that “security overkill” is driving the passion for guns, which in turn worsens the dangerous situation of a people perennially living at the mercy of the gun.

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Tags: Cebu court shooting , editorial , guns , John Pope , opinion

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