Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Homecommentary asiaCommentary: As Siam Paragon shooting shows, modified guns are a growing danger...

Commentary: As Siam Paragon shooting shows, modified guns are a growing danger that demands attention

SINGAPORE: On Oct 3, a 14-year-old boy carried out a deadly shooting at the Siam Paragon in downtown Bangkok, one of Thailand’s most popular shopping malls. Three people were killed while several others were injured.

A notable feature of the attack was that the shooter used a modified blank gun that he bought online. Several men were arrested days after the incident for selling a modified blank gun and ammunition to the shooter.

The Bangkok shooting echoes another incident involving modified guns: The assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in July 2022. The gun used in the Abe assassination was a homemade, improvised gun that was constructed using commercial hardware store materials.

These incidents highlight the threat of modified guns and its implications for public security.

MODIFIED BLANK GUNS

A blank gun functions like a lethal weapon but fires blank cartridges instead of cartridges with a normal projectile (bullet). Blank guns are often used in film sets and as starting pistols for racing events.

These are slightly different to air guns including BB guns or airsoft guns, which use compressed gas or a spring to propel light projectiles. Air guns and blank guns are often made to look like real guns and are not considered firearms under Thai regulations.

The gun seller modified the blank gun sold to the Siam Paragon shooter so that it could fire live ammunition. While the capability of modified blank guns is generally lower than real firearms, their lethality is influenced by the overall build quality of the gun. In the Bangkok case, the gun was lethal in that it was able to sustain a significant number of shots and kill and injure several people.

Modified and improvised weapons have caught media attention elsewhere in the region. In August, an Islamic State (IS) sympathiser in Indonesia was found to have modified an airsoft gun into a live gun. He was suspected of planning an attack on the headquarters of the police’s security division.

Often, the durability and effectiveness of modified guns are limited. However, emerging technologies such as 3D printing have given rise to a cottage industry of sophisticated homemade weapons for criminal and terrorist networks.

Related:

Siam Paragon shooting casts spotlight on Thai youths' mental health, sparks calls for tighter gun control

Commentary: Gun violence is not Thailand's only silent crisis

3D-PRINTED “GHOST GUNS”

3D printing is an engineering method that constructs a three-dimensional object via a 3D printer and a digital design file. While 3D printing has many engineering applications, it has also been used by nefarious actors to manufacture weapons.

Since the first 3D-printed firearm was made in 2013, the technology has become cheaper and easier to use.

The use and manufacture of 3D-printed guns have been predominantly centered in Europe, North America and Australia. Both criminal and terrorist networks, particularly right-wing cells, have attempted to manufacture, use and traffic 3D-printed firearms.

In 2019, right-wing extremist Stephan Balliet attacked a Jewish synagogue in Halle, Germany using a gun that had 3D-printed components. Since then, several far-right networks have attempted to use 3D-printed guns in the UK, Finland, Iceland, Spain and Australia.

While manufacturing lethal 3D-printed firearms requires substantial skill and effort, it offers criminals and terrorists operational security. It allows perpetrators to construct firearms in the safety of their homes, minimising interaction with the outside world and reducing the likelihood of interdiction by authorities.

The firearms are unregistered, and thus difficult to detect, giving rise to the moniker “ghost guns”.

Related:

Owning digital plans to 3D-print guns without licence to be made a crime after new Bill passed

Commentary: How video-streaming platforms feed hate and sow divisions and what we can do about it

MITIGATING THE THREAT

The shooting in Bangkok demonstrates the continued threat and serious security implications of modified and improvised weapons. It also proves that these weapons can kill, injure and cause panic.

Countries like Singapore have taken strong steps in attempting to mitigate the threat. In Singapore, air guns are listed as controlled items which means that approval, authorisation and a licence is required for someone to own these guns.

In December 2020, a 64-year-old Singaporean man was jailed for making three airsoft guns from discarded scrap metal, capable of firing steel ball bearings.

In the aftermath of the Bangkok shooting, Thai authorities have vowed to strengthen their firearms controls and close any legal loopholes pertaining to the online sales of illegally modified weapons.

While strict gun legislation is important, regional governments must also address underlying societal issues. Before the Siam Paragon shooting, the perpetrators of the 2022 nursery attack in Uthai Sawan and the 2020 mall attack in Nakhon Ratchasima raised questions about mental health and drug abuse.

The confluence of mental health issues, cybercrime and the illicit use of 3D printing makes the threat even more complex. A holistic, multi-pronged approach in dealing with these risks is crucial.

Rueben Dass is a senior analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore. The author would like to thank Patrick Senft from Armament Research Services, Australia for his valuable insights.

Related:

Commentary: Thailand must restore confidence it is safe for residents and tourists alike

Commentary: Shooting of police inspector at dinner party exposes corruption underbelly in Thai police
RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Most Popular