December 18, 2018

Letters from Thailand: Asia’s highest gun violence statistics still do not outdo the U.S.

As a country known for its bright smiles, beautiful weather, incredible nature, and friendly people, one would not expect Thailand to have one of the highest rates of gun related crimes in Asia.

Gun violence in Thailand derives mainly from armed robberies, crimes of passion, organized crime, and self-defense.  The crimes of passion are often related to the Thai concept of losing face.

Losing face can vaguely be compared to embarrassment and loss of honor in a western sense.  But for the Thais, losing face is an incredible offense and is one of the greatest insults one can impose on a Thai. This loss of face often occurs in simple, everyday interactions and has caused violence over the smallest matters such as an ongoing quarrel about parking in January of 2016.

The concept of losing face has roots in the strong emphasis Thais put on honor and hierarchy.  The hierarchical structure of Thai society and the individual’s place within this structure has become a key way in which many Thais identify themselves. When this is disrupted through certain interactions, it can be very disturbing for a Thai, and this can lead to negative exchanges and sometimes even violence.

The strong negative reactions and, at times, the violence of some Thai people is also said to be an effect of the deep emotional suppression many Thais have.  The easygoing, smiling attitudes of the Thais can lead to this suppression of negative emotions in everyday circumstances, leading to a bubbling up of emotion and eventual negative outbreaks.

This cultural aspect of the gun related violence is not the only cause for the high rate of violent gun deaths in Thailand.  Much of the violence derives from mafia related issues and from the violent separatist insurgency in Thailand’s south.   

The separatist group is made up of Muslims from the Malay region of Thailand, made up of four provinces along the Malaysian border. The resurgence of the group, led mainly by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C) and its violent branch, the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) began back in the early 2000s and has involved several bombings, shootings and kidnappings.

The attacks have continued to the present and have been conducted with the primary goal of gaining local autonomy.  The government has made and continues to make several attempts to quell and break up the insurgency.

 The Thai government has also made different attempts to reduce the gun violence, such as working to reduce illegal firearms with things such as amnesty programs for those who forfeit illegally obtained arms.

As far as the legal ownership of guns goes, it is not too difficult to obtain a license for a firearm in Thailand. One must fill several criteria, such as passing a background check, having good personal conduct, having appropriate living conditions, and having a lack of a criminal record within five years of applying for the license. (Chaninat & Leeds, 2011)

The person applying for the license must also have their permanent address in Thailand and can only buy it for specific purposes such as self-defense, protecting property, for sports or hunting, or as a keepsake.

A handicapped or disabled may not own a gun other than as a keepsake, those judged as incompetent, with a criminal record for certain crimes, those who are unemployed, and those who are seen as a threat to the “social peace and order” may also not possess a firearm legally.

Even though it is not difficult to obtain a gun legally in Thailand, the firearm black market is quite large and has not shown signs of decreasing with easy access to guns along the Thai-Myanmar and Thai-Cambodian borders.

With a rate of violent gun deaths at 4.45 per 100,000 people in Thailand being one of the highest in Asia, compared with the rate of violent gun deaths at 3.85 per 100,000 people in the U.S. (almost 5 times higher than it should be with the country’s economic status), it is not hard to come to the conclusion something must be done.  It is unacceptable to have such a useless loss of life in both countries in this day and age.   

To see that the United States is almost at the level of gun violence of Thailand, a less developed country and a country with its own terrorist insurgency, was eye-opening to say the least.  I certainly hope our government does something to make a change, especially in light of current events.  I know I am not the only one who sees it as unacceptable for a highly developed country like ours to have the highest violent gun crime rate of all the countries of similar socioeconomic statuses.

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