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

BANGKOK: Friday (Oct 6) marked the one-year anniversary of the gun and knife attack at a nursery in northeast Thailand, where 36 people, 24 of them toddlers, were killed by an ex-policeman with a history of drug abuse. In 2020, a military officer carried out a mass shooting at a shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima, resulting in 30 deaths and 58 injuries.

After both incidents, the then government announced numerous promises to reform gun control, which have remained unfulfilled so far. Thailand was reminded of this the hard way last week when a 14-year-old opened fire in popular shopping mall Siam Paragon in Bangkok.

The government of the day has already made fresh promises to reform the gun laws, which are expected to curb access, and has plans to block the sale and import of blank guns. But while the latest tragedy has put gun control in the spotlight, focusing narrowly on it obscures other problems that Thailand needs to tackle.

Related:

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

DON’T JUST TIGHTEN GUN CONTROL

Tightening gun laws may simply drive up the demand for illegal guns, if the government does not understand and address why so many Thais want to own guns in the first place.

According to Switzerland-based research centre Small Arms Survey, Thailand had 10.3 million guns in civilian possession in 2017 and one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world. But only around 6.2 million are registered, which means there are about 4 million illegal guns – a likely underestimation.

This behaviour is usually driven by structural issues, such as public safety, trust toward law enforcement agencies and cultural norms that perpetuate high tolerance for violence. During the July parliamentary session to decide on the prime minister, Member of Parliament Chada Thaiseth said he wanted to propose a new law that would allow people to shoot those insulting the monarchy. He is now the Deputy Minister of Interior, the main agency overseeing gun control.

So far, after all these shocking incidents, there has been no talk about structural reforms in these areas.

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