Guns snuff out lives and hinder national development

“The Knotted Gun,” non-violence sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

Civilians will now be allowed to own semiautomatic rifles as a result of the amendment of the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 10591 (or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act), the Philippine National Police has announced.  

According to Britain’s The Guardian in 2012, citing data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the annual number of homicides by firearm was 7,349 in the Philippines, or an average of 20 deaths per day in this country.

The government’s policy on the trade, ownership and possession of guns accounts for these deaths. Our public officials have not taken the right path to address these tragedies and re-assess public safety.

The Gunless Society and the Kapatiran Party have long been issuing reminders that the first and primary duty of the government under the Constitution is to keep citizens safe from crime and to maintain order and peace. Order precedes peace. Without order—a condition that these daily tragedies manifest—how can there be peace?

1M signatures

Since 1989, the Gunless Society has been campaigning for legislation on gun control, without success.

In 1990-1991, it gathered one million signatures to make it unlawful for anyone to carry a gun and any other instrument of violence in public places unless he or she is 1) authorized, 2) in uniform, and 3) on duty. This ban would not apply to sportsmen or individuals who wish to keep guns in their clubs or homes. President Corazon Aquino certified as urgent the pertinent sponsored bill, which passed third reading in the Senate but was gunned down in the House of Representatives.

In December 2000, a Pulse Asia survey showed that 83% of all adult Filipinos favor a more restrictive gun policy—that is, allowing only law enforcers and licensed private security guards who are properly authorized, in uniform and on duty to carry firearms in public places. The same survey revealed that only 16% supported a law that liberally allows anyone to carry a licensed firearm wherever he or she may like. The result of this survey should not come as a shock given that 98% of Filipinos do not own guns.

In 2010, the Kapatiran Party, through indirect initiative, filed in both chambers of Congress the same gun control bill called the Citizen Protection Act of 2010. Its passage proved next to impossible due mainly to a strong lobby by gun advocates and the skewed mindset of certain politicians who are armed and with bodyguards.

To make matters worse, in 2013 Congress passed and President Benigno Aquino III approved RA 10591, under which gun ownership becomes a right, not a mere privilege; enthusiasts and collectors may own an infinite number of weapons; the issuance of permits to carry goes on; the use of a loose firearm, inherent in the commission of a crime, is still considered an aggravating circumstance; and the commercial manufacture, trading and distribution of firearms are the norm.

The law was passed despite another Pulse Asia survey in the same year showing that 67% of Filipinos surveyed considered guns and their proliferation a major cause of crime and violence.

The majority of heinous crimes are committed with the use of firearms, which gun advocates argue often do not involve theirs that are licensed.

While they point their finger at illegal firearms, these are the natural offshoot of the state’s policy where arms end up among criminal syndicates (big- and small-time alike), the New People’s Army, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front renegade group, and the Abu Sayyaf.

Not even 2% 

If we add up the 205,000 PNP personnel, 125,000 active military personnel, and 360,000 reserved personnel, we get 690,000—or 0.69% of the population if we are a hundred million. Double this to account for Filipinos with licensed firearms and permits to carry, and what do we have? Not even 2% of the entire population

In sum, public officials are accommodating 1% at the expense of the 99% who suffer because of the proliferation of guns, and allot resources to control loose firearms that could be better spent elsewhere.

For gun control to be effective, the Gunless Society and the Kapatiran Party recommend that: Congress declare as contrary to public policy, public morals, public interest, good customs and the common good the glorification of guns and violence in the movies, television, videos, radio, print media, billboards and posters, including the exhibit or sale of guns and progun stickers in public places; increase the penalty for illegal possession to life imprisonment without parole; relocate gun stores and gun shows to military or police camps; disallow the obscuring of the windows of motor vehicles; ban the manufacture, importation or sale of toy guns, air guns or replicas of guns; mandate the inventory, destruction or melting down of guns for conversion to plowshares, manhole covers, etc.; and give rewards to those who will surrender illegal guns and encourage the private sector to set up a gun amnesty fund.

Our Asian neighbors, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong, have achieved peace by controlling gun ownership in their respective societies. They do not allow gun exhibits in public places. If they can survive and prosper without putting guns in the hands of their citizens, why can’t we?

Guns in this country don’t just kill lawyers and journalists but Filipinos and foreigners in general. They also kill the country’s standing and reputation. Each massacre, each killing, undermines the Philippines in the eyes of the international community and acts as a serious disincentive to foreign investors. With more senseless bursts of gunfire, the more dangerous and unreliable the Philippines will look in the eyes of the international community.

While the government office assigned to the task of securing citizens and foreigners alike is the PNP, the crux of the matter lies with Congress. No society can prosper in an environment where public safety is at risk. No business can prosper to its fullest, and few will be drawn to invest in the country under our conditions. 

Indeed, order and peace are a condition precedent to development. 

Norman V. Cabrera is president of the Gunless Society and Kapatiran Party.

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