The Senate has approved on third and final reading a proposed comprehensive law on guns and ammunition, authored by Sen. Panfilo
Lacson, that imposes Marcosian penalties such as at least 30 years’ imprisonment for illegal possession of firearms.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the committee on public order who sponsored Senate Bill No. 3397 on the floor, expressed confidence that the measure would pass Congress before the official start of the campaign period next week.
The Senate worked on the comprehensive gun control bill during its tight three-week, nine-session schedule after the senators returned from their Christmas break and before another recess that starts Feb. 9 for the election campaign.
Not knee-jerk reaction
The proposal for stiffer penalties on illegal acquisition and possession of guns and ammunition was made in the wake of gun-related incidents such as the stray bullet killing of children in the cities of Navotas and Mandaluyong in Metro Manila during the New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Kawit, Cavite, rampage that killed eight, and the Atimonan massacre.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent incidents. This is a proactive measure with long-term implications,” Honasan said.
“We are hoping that this will be a deterrent and so it will rely on strong public support,” he added.
In 1997, Congress enacted a law that brought down the penalties for illegal possession of firearms.
Lacson, a former policeman, said it is about time the penalties are brought up.
“The penalties should be made harsher because many crimes are attributed to the use of firearms and the use of guns, the display of guns and the commission of crimes using guns have become too blatant,” he told reporters.
“But more than that, the reason why [the proposed bill] is comprehensive is that even the safety features of how to use and how to possess guns are provided. For instance, having a vault [for keeping the gun] at home. It also mentions who are authorized to possess and carry firearms,” Lacson said.
Honasan said that a recent public hearing on the proposed measure found out that there are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 registered firearms in the Philippines. He said there are about the same number of unlicensed guns across the country.
Aside from the stiffer penalties on illegal acquisition and possession of guns, Honasan said the bill also targets illegal distributors and manufacturers of firearms.
“It’s like [our strategy] in the Dangerous Drugs Law. We intend to hit the source and go for supply reduction and, at the same time, demand reduction,” he said.
Under the proposed bill, illegal possession of a small firearm is punishable with prision mayor (six years and one day to 12 years in prison) in its medium period; illegal possession of three or more small arms, reclusion temporal (12 years and one day to 20 years) to reclusion perpetua (at least 30 years); illegal possession of a Class A light weapon, prision mayor in its maximum period; and illegal possession of a Class B light weapon, reclusion perpetua.
The penalties imposed will move one degree higher if the firearms illegally possessed were under any or a combination of the following conditions: loaded with ammunition or inserted with a loaded magazine; fitted or mounted with laser or any gadget used to guide the shooter hit the target such as a thermal weapon sight and the like; fitted with sniper scopes, firearm muffler or firearm silencer; accompanied with an extra barrel; and converted to be fired semiautomatic or full automatic.
The bill passed on final reading in the Senate provides that only small arms may be registered by licensed citizens of licensed juridical entities for ownership, possession and concealed carry.
It also provides that a light weapon may be lawfully acquired or possessed only by the Armed Forces, the PNP and other law-enforcement agencies authorized by the President. However, those private individuals with licenses for Class A light weapons when the law comes into effect may continue to hold on to them and renew their licenses for these weapons.
Arms smuggling and the unlawful manufacture, importation, sale or disposition of firearms and ammunition are also proposed to be punished by as much as 30 years in prison.