The former police officer who attacked a day care center in Thailand on Thursday had legally bought the 9-millimeter gun he used, officials said, a revelation that focused new scrutiny on rules that allow soldiers and law enforcement officers to buy personal firearms from the government.
Under the regulations, such buyers avoid some of the checks that apply to civilians. The attacker, Panya Kamrab, had been fired from the police force after he was arrested while possessing methamphetamine. But it was unclear when he bought the firearm and whether he was using drugs at the time.
Experts say the legal loopholes help explain why there are an estimated 10 million guns in Thailand — and why the country has such a large black market for firearms.
After Thailand’s last mass shooting, when a disgruntled army sergeant killed 29 people and wounded dozens of others in 2020, investigators found that he was the legal owner of five firearms.
There have also been cases in which Thai police officers bought firearms and sold them to civilians. In 2019, for example, a police captain in a city near Bangkok was arrested and charged with buying 9-millimeter pistols through official channels and selling them for a few hundred dollars apiece, The Bangkok Post reported at the time.
“If someone is willing to take a big risk, just about anyone can illicitly purchase a firearm through social media sites and apps like Line, Twitter and Facebook,” said Michael Picard, an independent researcher who studies the arms trade and has conducted fieldwork in Thailand.
On paper, Thailand’s gun regulations are relatively strict. Assault weapons are banned, there are limits on the number of guns and ammunition that can be sold or owned, and civilians must pay a tax of up to 40 percent to buy a firearm legally.
Civilians who want a gun must also undergo a background check and provide a reason for ownership, such as hunting or self-defense. Possessing one illegally carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of 20,000 baht (about $535).
But the loopholes in Thailand’s gun laws make it easier for officials to register firearms, Mr. Picard said. They don’t pay import tax, for starters, and they can buy guns directly from a government body that issues firearm licenses.
Closing the loopholes should be the first step in any effort to reform the country’s gun laws, he said, adding that another would be digitizing Thailand’s firearm registry.
“Unfortunately, these processes are subject to little external civilian oversight and accountability, so while any of this would be feasible in a functional democracy, it essentially depends on the will of the junta,” Mr. Picard said, referring to Thailand’s military government.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told The New York Times on Friday that he had a “big concern” that previous mass shootings in Thailand had also been carried out by law enforcement officials.
“We will surely have to do something,” he said. “I’m sure that the national security network will have to remeasure things that could be done to enforce gun control.”
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