11 July 2024

Recent incidents of gun violence and police crackdowns on illegal guns have proved how easy it is to acquire this kind of weapon in Thailand despite tough firearm laws.

A 40-year-old woman who recently shot and killed her boyfriend, whom she accused of assaulting her, told police that she bought the pistol on the Internet.

In early August, a gunfight between two rival gangs of youths in Ubon Ratchathani province left three people dead and six others injured. Police said the shootout involved smuggled rifles from the Cold War era.

In July, more than 2,300 modified guns and several thousand bullets destined for an online marketplace were seized during a police raid in Bangkok.

Last week, a 52-year-old Bangkok man was arrested in possession of an unregistered shotgun, pistol, and 34 bullets that police said were purchased online.

Readily available online

People appear to have easy access to unregistered firearms in Thailand, as online marketplaces make it cheap and easy for civilians to obtain guns without having to go through complicated background checks.

Several Thai social media accounts offer guns for sale with a home delivery service. A Twitter account with the hashtag “#puenthuan” (illegal guns) lists pistols ranging in price from 2,500 to 15,000 baht – far lower than their legitimate counterparts.

Unlicensed firearms remain prevalent in the country despite occasional police crackdowns on illegal gun vendors.

4 million illicit guns

Civilians in Thailand hold an estimated 10.3 million guns, both legally and illegally, according to GunPolicy.org, which is hosted by the University of Sydney in Australia.

As of last year, the number of registered guns in Thailand totaled just over 6 million, according to the Interior Ministry. That leaves over 4 million unregistered or illicit firearms spread across the country.

Preferred by criminals

Illegal firearms in Thailand mainly comprise homemade guns, unregistered firearms, and imitations such as blank-firing guns, air rifles and BB guns that are modified to shoot real bullets.

In many cases, new owners of legal guns get their registration numbers removed before reselling them on the black market, according to gun experts. The price of these genuine weapons start from 40,000 baht apiece.

Criminals tend not to use licensed guns because registration includes a record of the unique barrel marking that each firearm leaves on bullets, experts say. Found at crime scenes, these individual markings can be used to trace the gun that was used to fire the bullet.

According to one estimate, illegal guns are used in up to 98 percent of crimes involving firearms.

The firearms law

The Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation Guns Act of 1947, which was last amended in 2014, prohibits the possession of unlicensed firearms. Violators risk a prison sentence of one to 10 years and/or a fine of up to 20,000 baht.

Anyone caught carrying a gun registered to another person faces six months to five years in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 baht.

Carrying a registered firearm without a permit is also illegal, punished by up to five years in jail, a maximum fine of 10,000 baht or both.

‘Rules can be bypassed’

The legislation also sets a long list of restrictions on gun ownership. Those banned from owning a gun include people convicted of crime, drug abusers, frail or disabled people, mentally unsound or infirm individuals, incompetent or semi-incompetent people, and minors.

Gun ownership is also not allowed for people with no occupation or income and no fixed place of residence, as well as those who have committed public-order offenses.

However, gun experts say these tough rules can be bypassed with bribes or connections in the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, customers wishing to own firearms legally can pay gun shops to apply for registration on their behalf. This way, the waiting time for a firearm can be reduced from between six months and a year to no longer than two months.

Impact on children of gun violence in the media