Lawmakers are dusting off long-pending bills after bullets from celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve killed two children and the deadly random shooting of eight people by a drug-crazed gunman sparked fresh debates on the need for gun control, putting more teeth in law enforcement and concerns that civilians will be defenseless against armed criminals.
In fact, the House of Representatives passed on final reading last year a bill seeking a comprehensive regulation of firearms, light weapons and ammunition, spelling out the requirements for those seeking to acquire a gun and imposing harsher penalties on the use of unlicensed firearms.
The bill provides the maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, for those who unlawfully acquire or possess firearms or light weapons.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the proposal of a gun ban that would only allow members of the police and the military to be armed in public “is still only an ideal as long as illegal firearms proliferate.”
The House bill was later transmitted to the Senate, where it has languished since, along with other similar measures.
On Monday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he would “modify” a bill he filed on firearms regulation so civilians would no longer be given permits to carry firearms outside their residence.
“Anyone seen with a firearm will be presumed as a bad element without doubt and therefore must be reported to authorities,” he said of his new proposal.
“When this happens, a lot of lives can be saved and [it would have] a big positive impact on the country’s peace and order,” he added in a text message.
There is a “misplaced perception that anyone with a firearm tucked in his waist must be a police or law enforcement officer,” Lacson said.
Once signed into law, the measure would at least “reverse” this, said the senator who is a former director general of the Philippine National Police.
“I was actually headed in this policy direction when I was [PNP chief], when I limited the issuance of permits to carry firearms outside the residence and under very strict guidelines,” he said of Senate Bill No. 2993, which seeks to provide a comprehensive law on firearms, light weapons and ammunition.
Lacson said the bill would require civilians to keep licensed firearms “in a vault inside their homes when unattended.”
On New Year’s Eve, a 4-year-old boy was accidentally killed by a neighbor brandishing a homemade gun in Mandaluyong City, and in Caloocan City, a 7-year-old girl who was hit in the head by a stray bullet died two days later.
In Kawit, Cavite province, an unemployed man allegedly taking drugs and drinking liquor shot dead eight neighbors with a .45 cal. pistol on Friday.
Sen. Franklin Drilon admitted he favored a gun ban “but given the state of our law enforcement, I have very serious doubts about its effectiveness.”
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the gun ban clamor was a “knee-jerk reaction” to last week’s killings. Once implemented, the total gun ban could “only exacerbate the already grave peace and order problem in our country,” he said.
“Responsible gun owners are no match against heavily armed criminal elements who authorities could not seem to confront despite [their] superior armory,” Sotto warned.
If a total gun ban is in place, he said, “citizens would be at the mercy of the criminal elements with high-powered guns at their disposal.”
“A gunless society is a problem-solution mismatch. It’s not about the existence of firearms. It’s about the peacekeeping forces not doing their jobs.” fumed Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
Revilla noted that as it is, the undermanned PNP cannot cover the entire country.
“Ideally, there should at least be one policeman for every 500 citizens. However, statistics show that in 2012, we only have one for every 622 citizens. This shows that the number of our policemen is not enough to protect individual citizens,” he warned.
Sen. Loren Legarda sounded like a lone voice in the wilderness, insisting that a “gunless society” is better than one where citizens stock firearms out of fear. She said only members of the military and the police should bear firearms and use these judiciously.
Sen. Joker Arroyo feared that due to the clamor for a total gun ban, the next step would be a revival of proposals to re-impose the death penalty. “Punishment is not the deterrent. It is law enforcement,” Arroyo maintained.
Sen. Francis Escudero said capital punishment “will not stop miscreants from carrying out their crimes.”
“I have always said that it is still the certainty of punishment, not the severity, that will deter crimes,” said Escudero, chairman of the Senate human rights committee.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan II, chair of the committee on public order, said the Senate would push for life imprisonment for manufacturers, smugglers and distributors of illegal guns and 12-year jail time for possession of unregistered guns.
He found “disturbing” PNP data which showed that there were 600,000 to 800,000 registered guns and an equivalent number of unregistered guns in the Philippines.
“This means that half of all the guns out there are illegal and could be used for criminal activities,” Honasan said. “We have to come up with a final inventory in order to make long-term plans on how to address this situation.”
Ang Kapatiran, a political party advocating a “gunless society,” is pushing its bill that would only allow the police, the military, and those engaged in security matters to carry firearms in public places. The measure would make the mere carrying of a gun in public a criminal offense.
The watchdog group Volunteers against Crime and Corruption yesterday declared that it was against disarming civilians.
“The government can hardly protect its citizens from these criminals, it is better off to leave the responsible gun owners armed,” said the group’s head, Dante Jimenez, whose brother was killed allegedly by a drug syndicate in 1990. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan, Noli A. Ermitanio and Marlon Ramos