Re-assessing public safety

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

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The Colorado Movie Theater shooting tragedy where 12 people were killed and 58 were injured during a sold-out midnight premier of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” brought chills to many around the world. Imagine a 24-year-old man named James Holmes unloaded four weapons’ full of ammunition into the unsuspecting crowd without any fear whatsoever. And here we are in our neck of the woods selling ammunition like hotcakes to any Tom, Dick or Harry.

Many tragedies have come our way and what have we gotten out of them? Remember the Luneta hostage crisis where several innocent tourists were gunned down? What safety steps have we taken after the incident? I hope our public officials will take heed of these tragedies and re-assess public safety in this country.

Gunless Society founder Nandy Pacheco reminds us that, “The first and primary duty of government under the Constitution is to keep citizens safe from crime and to maintain peace and order. The particular government office assigned for that task is the Philippine National Police”. Then he continues by saying, “No society can prosper in an environment where public safety is in question. No business can survive and no investors will be attracted to come to the country with such conditions. The local will continue to suffer. Indeed, peace and order is a condition precedent to development”.

Since 1989 the Gunless Society has been campaigning for a gun control legislation without any success. In 1990-1991, it undertook a one million signature campaign to make it unlawful for anyone to carry guns and any instrument of violence in a public place 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.) But up to this day, despite public support there is still no political party committed to gun control. Sanamagan!

Pacheco said that, “In 1991 there were two identical gun control bills pending in the House and Senate sponsored by the late Representative Gillego and Senators Nene Pimentel and Bert Romulo. Following the murder of Eldon Maguan on July 2 by Rolito Go and the murder of Maureen Hultman and her friend Mr. Chapman 13 days later, President Cory consolidated the two bills into one titled the Anti- Deadly Weapons Act of 1991. She then sent a message to both houses to approve the bill. The Senate approved it but the House Committee on public order and security (then chaired by former Congressman Peping Cojuangco) gunned it down”. If that bill was passed, it could have been President Cory’s greatest contribution to peace and order in this country.

If we can have a successful gun ban or gun control during the election period, why can’t we continue the same during off-election period?

In the second half of December 2000, Pulse Asia survey showed 83% of all adult Filipinos favor a more restrictive gun policy, allowing only law enforcers and licensed private security guards who are properly authorized, in uniform and actually on duty to carry firearms in public places. The same survey revealed that only 16% support a law that liberally allows anybody with a licensed firearm to carry it wherever the owner may like.

Today, contrary to what the President announced in his SONA, crime rate in the country has gone up by 36% in the first few months of 2012. These crimes mostly involved the use of guns. Perhaps it is time to review the penalties that have been set in RA No. 8294 (an act amending the provisions of PD 1866) – Codifying the laws on illegal/unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives or instruments used in the manufacture of firearms, ammunition or explosives, and imposing stiffer penalties for certain violations.

Sec. 1 of Section 1 of RA 8294 states that “the penalty of arresto mayor (1 month and 1 day to 6 months imprisonment) shall be imposed upon any person who shall carry any licensed firearm outside his residence without legal authority”. Sec. 3 of Section 2 states unlawful manufacture, sale, acquisition, disposition or possession of explosives shall have the penalty of prision mayor ( 6 years and 1 day to 12 years imprisonment) in its maximum period to reclusion temporal and a fine of not less than fifty thousand pesos. These penalties seem not to bother the criminals at all.

For gun control to be effective, Gunless Society recommends the following: For Congress to 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, videograms, radio, print media, billboards, posters, and the exhibit or sale of guns and pro-gun stickers in public places; Increase the penalty for illegal possession to life imprisonment without parole; Relocate gun stores and gun shows in 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 all these 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.

Pacheco also pointed out that our Asian neighbors (Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Hongkong) have achieved peace by controlling guns in their society. They cannot even have gun exhibits in public places. If they can survive and prosper without putting guns into the hands of their citizens, why can’t we?

Guns in this country don’t just kill Filipinos and foreigners, 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 for foreign investors. With more senseless burst of gunfires, the more dangerous and unreliable the Philippines will look in the eyes of the international community.

If P-Noy wants to succeed where his mother failed, he should give us a “gunless society”. This will be an everlasting monument to his administration.

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