Thais shrug off rampant gun murders

Weapons on display at a gun shop in Bangkok. Some 6.1 million firearms are registered in Thailand, which has a population of 67 million. Thailand is awash with firearms, and disputes are all too frequently settled with a bullet and a body.
Weapons on display at a gun shop in Bangkok. Some 6.1 million firearms are registered in Thailand, which has a population of 67 million. Thailand is awash with firearms, and disputes are all too frequently settled with a bullet and a body.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lack of outrage due to acceptance of death as being part of life, says former minister

KOH SAMUI • Ms Rungrat Rungsuwan was manning her small shop selling trinkets on a tourist street of the Thai resort island of Koh Samui when she heard loud bangs.

"At first I thought they were firecrackers," she told Agence France-Presse as tourists in flip-flops and singlets filed past her storefront at Fisherman's Village.

"But once people realised it was gunfire, everyone panicked and started running. Some people came into my shop to hide."

It was early March, and just metres away, influential local businessmen Panas Khaouthai lay dead, six bullets fired into his body at close range by two assassins who calmly unloaded their pistols in daylight.

For the holidaymakers forced to dive for cover that evening, the murder - which police say was over a commercial dispute - provided a glimpse into a reality familiar to the locals: Thailand's deadly enthusiasm for guns.

In one recent case, a woman was shot in the neck by an angry lover in a mall, while another incident saw a man gunned down outside his Bangkok apartment block after arguing with a security guard. In a third case, a bus driver shot a passenger in the chest because his victim had repeatedly criticised his driving skills.

Renowned to outsiders for its laid-back, welcoming vibe, Thailand is also awash with firearms, and disputes are all too frequently settled with a bullet and a body.

Barely a week goes by without a new headline-grabbing killing, usually stemming from a humiliation - or loss of "face" - over a personal or business dispute.

In one recent case, a woman was shot in the neck by an angry lover in a mall, while another incident saw a man gunned down outside his Bangkok apartment block after arguing with a security guard.

In a third incident, a bus driver shot a passenger in the chest because his victim had repeatedly criticised his driving skills.

As one Western police officer stationed at an embassy in Bangkok told Agence France-Presse: "There is a real culture of guns in Thailand, it is a military-style culture, a place of uniforms and male power."

Assessing the precise fallout of the kingdom's enthusiasm for wea-ponry is difficult.

The government does not provide a specific breakdown for an-nual gun murders outside of the country's deep south, where a local Muslim insurgency has killed more than 6,400 in the last decade.

But the GunPolicy.org website, an online database of global gun statistics run by the University of Sydney's School of Public Health, believes Thailand has one of the highest gun homicide rates in Asia.

It estimates 3.48 murders per 100,000 people in Thailand, three times the rate of Cambodia and on a par with the US.

What is much clearer is the sheer number of weapons in civilian hands. According to the Interior Ministry, there are 6.1 million registered firearms in Thailand, a country with 67 million people.

GunPolicy.org puts the total number of firearms at closer to 10 million, once the thriving black market trade is counted.

As the US State Department's Bureau for Diplomatic Security states in its safety report for overseas staff: "Thailand has a fervent gun culture on par with the United States and has become a world leader in firearms-related homicides."

But while the US has long experienced a passionate debate on gun control, Thailand largely greets the toll of its firearms obsession with a collective shrug. On paper, Thailand has strict gun controls, but the law is easily circumnavigated.

"No one has taken responsibility, no one has really taken up the issue," lamented Mr Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister who believes tighter gun controls are needed in the country, as well as an amnesty for illegal weapons.

The lack of outrage shown over gun murders, he believes, is down to the concept of karma. "When you die, you die. It's acceptance and resignation. We take death calmly as part of life," said Mr Kasit, who owns two registered pistols.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Thais shrug off rampant gun murders'. Print Edition | Subscribe