Trigger happy: a look at Phuket’s gun laws
PHUKET: It’s an extensive and intimidating list, and one that is seemingly growing by the week.
Saturday 25 June 2011, 12:28AM
The man who shot his wife and committed suicide in front of their two children; the shootout between drunken brothers in Patong; two people executed and their bodies dumped off a cliff near Naithorn beach; the recent armed robbery of a Phuket gold shop, a gun battle in Kata after a policeman was shot by two gang members; and now last weekend another shooting in Patong.
That’s just in the last couple of months.
Phuket is certainly no stranger to gun crime, and it’s raising the rather obvious question of why it is so easy to obtain a firearm on the island.
Phuket Provincial Police crime statistics show 66 firearms arrests until April this year, up from 55 over the same period last year. There have been 15 firearms arrests in May this year, up from 14 last year.
However, Chief of the Investigation Division of Phuket Provincial Police Senior Sgt Maj Wuttiya Banlusuk, explained that the number of arrests does not include all violent crimes that have firearms involved.
“We only record the cases where police have arrested people who possess guns without permission and registration. Cases that have guns involved but in which a more serious crime has been committed, the case will be recorded under the more serious offence,” Maj Wuttiya said.
So a murder case that involved an illegal gun would be recorded as a murder and not included in the firearms arrest figures, which means the actual number of gun crimes is significantly higher.
But despite what these figures may suggest, to actually buy and possess a gun legally in Thailand is no simple affair.
The Interior Ministry (MOI) grants full authority to every District Chief (Nai Amphur) to take responsibility for gun control in their respective provinces. Nai Amphur has the sole decision-making power in issuing permission for people to buy and possess a gun, even if those who request to have a gun outrank him (such as the governor).
The number of registered guns in Phuket, according to the Phuket Provincial Administration Office, is 4,247 (as of April this year). Of those, 843 are rifles and 3,404 are pistols.
“There are only two reasons that people are permitted to own a gun. The first is for defending themselves and protecting their property. The second is for sport or hunting,” an officer at the Phuket Provincial Administration Office, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Phuket News.
“Generally, people are allowed to have a maximum of two guns; one pistol and one rifle. However, those who like collecting guns, or use them for recreation, can request an exemption. The decision to grant that exemption will then be at the discretion of the district chief.”
To acquire a gun legally is not easy. People must first apply for permission to purchase a gun. They have to go to the district office (amphur) of their residency, and then request the purchasing of the gun by filling a form issued by the MOI (called Por 1).
Bangkok residents will have to request permission at the Registrar Department of The Royal Thai Police.
“Then Nai Amphur will consider how necessary it is for that person to own a gun, and the background and character of the applicant will be investigated. If everything is approved, you will receive the permission form called Por 3, which can then be taken to a gun shop as proof of permission to purchase,” the officer said.
“After that, you will have to come to the district office again, showing the receipt from the gun shop, together with the gun, and required documents to apply for legal ownership of that gun. Only after this is approved, and you receive the Por 4 form, are you legally entitled to own that gun.”
But with illegal gun crime so high on the island, it is clear these laws are not always effective.
The Phuket Provincial Administration officer said he believed there are a lot more illegal guns on the island than registered ones, and those are the ones being used for criminal acts.
“Thai people are very good at inventing or creating things, and we do see a lot of home made guns involved in criminal activities. It seems that even a mechanic with a turret lathe is able to craft one,” he said.
“These home made guns can be found relatively cheaply depending on their condition, starting from around B5,000.
“It’s difficult for officers to catch those who produce the guns, because Phuket is a province where many people move in and out all the time. A lot of the crimes that happen in Phuket, and the illegal guns that are seized, involve people who migrate here from other provinces, making it difficult for police officers to control.”
Phuket Police Commander Maj Gen Pekad Tantipong insisted that Phuket Police were working intensively to check and arrest gun-carryers in Phuket.
“We are currently working to suppress illegal firearms on the island, and we have already seized a lot of weapons,” he said.
But with a violent murder almost every week, and anyone with a basic toolshed able to manufacture a firearm, police may have their work cut out for them.
– Janyaporn Jornjarun