11 July 2024

Jakrapanth Thomma, the gunman who shot 30 people dead during a rampage in Nakhon Ratchasima over the weekend, owned five legally-registered guns, including three pistols, one shotgun and a rifle, which were all bought under the Army’s “welfare gun” program, Army Commander-in-Chief General Apirat Kongsompong told a news conference this morning (Tuesday).

He said that the program should be scrapped as there is no need for army officers to have their own guns, because they are provided with service weapons.  Alternatively, the purchase of the guns by army officers must be more tightly controlled and permission to own a personal gun must be granted by an army general, not a colonel.

According to the army chief, Jakrapanth used one of his three pistols to kill his commander and the latter’s mother-in-law during a meeting at her house to settle an unpaid real estate brokerage fee.

The welfare gun program is widely practiced by law enforcement agencies and the three armed forces to enable their staff to buy weapons at tax-free prices, which are typically as low as half market prices.  This apparently explains why Jakrapanth could afford to buy five guns.

In most cases, guns bought under this program are resold to private individuals at a profit, but still at lower than market prices.  The program is also known as a means to beat the gun import quotas, under which each gun dealer is allocated a very limited quota per year, especially for pistols.

The army chief offered his condolences to families of those killed and the injured and promised a career in the army if the victims’ children want to join the service, adding that the army would look after the education of their children. He also apologised to families of the dead and the injured for the tragic incident committed by an army officer, whom he described as a becoming criminal the moment he pulled the trigger.

The army chief disclosed that, although army special units were dispatched to the Terminal 21 shopping mall, the scene of the dramatic siege, they were providing backup to the police specialist units, who were responsible for the storming of the mall.

The national police chief, Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, was authorized by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to take command, to prevent confusion and duplication of command.

“The police chief and I worked together as junior officers.  We went through several crises together and we treat each other with respect and honour. We respect each other’s decisions,” said General Apirat.

He pleaded with critics not to blame the army, because the perpetrator was a serviceman, or for the lax security at the armoury, allowing the gunman to steal guns and ammunition, but to blame him instead.

The army chief said that, leading up to the siege, the culprit stole an HK33 assault rifle and ammunition from a sentry, stole more weapons and ammunition from the armoury and killed a sentry before heading to the shopping mall in a stolen vehicle, which was not a Humvee as earlier reported.

Related story: Army chief admits shooting spree reflects poor treatment of army rank-and-file