Our gun culture
Recently, a Cebu newspaper reported that a Grade 12 student shot himself to death after his father had chided him for doing poorly in school. The father reportedly told his son to do better “since he was already getting old.” The article left you wondering if the father was declaring himself as aging, or was telling his young son that he was growing old fast. Or perhaps the reporter who wrote it didn’t translate it accurately from Cebuano.
Like many of the instances of sloppy journalism practiced by some local reporters who are too lazy to dig deeper for details, there was no mention of why there was a gun in that family’s home, whether the father was a policeman or was in the military, if the parents had carelessly left the gun lying around, how his friends reacted, and a possible motivation that may have pushed the boy to kill himself. The article only said the police mentioned that the boy had left a suicide note, but they did not disclose its contents.
As Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito wrote recently about the mental health crisis afflicting Filipino youth that’s causing a near epidemic of suicides, this confirms that the culture of guns is alive and well in this country. Indeed, some months ago the same Cebu newspaper that reported the student’s suicide ran a full-page advertisement from the arms dealer Armscor announcing a 4-day “expo” event being held at a popular venue, with free admission.
One can only shudder at the thought that arms proliferation is being promoted by businessmen in a country like ours, which has almost daily reports of shootings, plus multiple murders by criminal elements. Over the years politicians, policemen, ordinary citizens and innocent bystanders, as well as children, have been victims of this toxic trade. What paints a scary scenario for Filipinos is that guns today are no longer like the clunky old home-made ones known as paltik, but deadly sophisticated imported ones.
The rationale behind that recent Armscor advertisement for the Cebu expo was that weapons are required for “security purposes” and for “tactical survival.” The implication is that this country is comparable to a war zone where citizens need to be armed in order to stay alive. Gun dealers can claim that they don’t promote private ownership of guns, but we all know that’s a canard.
That hoary saying that goes “Guns don’t kill people, people do” reminds us that deranged folks exist everywhere. Unhinged men who have no guns will use knives, wooden clubs, rocks and anything lethal that’s available, including their bare hands. Trying to “rehabilitate” and “educate” such men to prevent them from continuing to go on murderous rampages is almost hopeless in a country with poor governance.
I stress the word “men,” because the assassins in this country are always male. One never hears of women riding tandem on motorbikes to murder someone. It doesn’t take a sociologist to know that it’s the females in our population who have more grievances and are more often the victims of abuse and violence. The question is why they don’t go berserk like the males do.
This country’s history of private armies controlled by people in power is real. One only needs to think of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao, where the perpetrators have remained unpunished for close to 10 years, to know that the gun culture is not only endemic, it’s thriving.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the town of Maria in Siquijor province now has an all-female police force to maintain law and order in that town, even though it’s known to be relatively peaceful. It makes one wish that more women would be hired for our police forces to help stem the waves of violence that seem part of our political culture.
Countries like the United States have gun licensing laws, like this country has. But the reality is that such a law is hardly ever enforced here. And even though the United States continues to have multiple cases of mass shootings by men using high-powered weapons, the authorities there make efforts to ensure that certain types of guns cannot be accessed by men with mental illness and those who harbor personal vendettas.
It’s a sad commentary about a developing country like ours that the toxic trade in guns continues. Unfortunately, running expos promoting guns like the recent one in Cebu is considered just another business.
Isabel T. Escoda has been writing for the Inquirer since the 1980s.
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