Gun business booms under Aquino

It’s certainly admirable that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has shown so much concern over the death of Nicole Ella that he even raised to P2 million the bounty for the capture of the shooter who fired the bullet that killed the sweet 7-year-old girl on New Year’s Eve.

I can’t help shuddering a bit though: Mr. Aquino is the poster boy for the Philippines’ gun culture. It is this subculture, which has made brandishing, and using the deadliest hand weapon invented by mankind into a sport just like tennis and golf, a hobby just like gardening. It is that overarching gun culture that led Nicole’s shooter to think that firing his gun up in the air was an innocuous way of celebrating the New Year.

Instead of sending a strong symbolic gesture to the country that he will abide with the gun-ban during the election period, Aquino even got the servile Comelec chairman to announce that, of course, the commander-in-chief is exempted. With soldiers all around him, does Aquino really need to tuck a gun in his waist, for him to defend himself? Can you imagine Bush, Clinton, or Obama appearing in newspapers front pages firing a gun?

It used to be: “Daddy, I want to be President when I grow up.” Most probably it’s now: “Daddy, I want to be President so I can shoot guns like PNoy.”

Forget rich gun-collectors’ rationalizations of ensuring one’s safety in a dangerous world. Just look at the videos of Aquino euphoric at the combat range, pretending to be Jason Bourne killing not one person but many. That’s the kind of fun for “gun enthusiasts” which some explain—with some validity perhaps extent for deprived bachelors—to the priapic theory of gun ownership.

With gun-control a burning issue worldwide, we’re an unlucky country to have a President who is, as he euphemistically calls himself, a “gun enthusiast”.

Gun control is a complex issue especially in our where we can’t really enforce most of our laws anyway. Any new law to tighten gun ownership would just favor the rich who could afford either the higher bribe for a gun license, or the expenses for gun handling courses that will be required, as one bill filed has proposed,

Excluding the military and the police, gun owners in the country can be classified in four groups. At the top is a the rich elite, most of whom with psychological profiles like Aquino and Rolito Go who killed a college kid in fit of traffic rage, who collect guns as their peers would collect motorcycles or golf club shares. In the middle is a very small stratum genuinely worried about their safety in their work and neighborhoods, and striving to be able to afford guns and expenses at the firing range. At the bottom is the biggest group of gun-owners, the lower to middle class Filipinos in the rural areas, where arms, no matter what kind, are a matter of survival. And at the fringes of each of these groups are the criminal-minded, whose sole purpose for getting a gun is in order to be able to commit a crime without being killed.

How do you formulate a gun policy to govern these four groups? Difficult it certainly is but we cannot shirk away the task of making ours a peaceful land, and the state must start and engage in the debate over it. But who’d dare tell Aquino to initiate such a debate, who’d dare tell him he must stop being the Filipino version of the American National Rifle Association’s Charlton Heston?

Aquino’s “gun-enthusiasm” is certainly infectious. Just look at how shooting has become BIR head Kim Henares’ preferred exercise to shed off pounds, and how Ronald Llamas spends good money for a Czech-made AK-47 instead of spending for a prosthodontist. And what sport do you think those under Henares and Llamas down the pecking order would aspire for? Llamas’ driver, if he can’t afford a P50,000 Glock his boss has, would get a P5,000 paltik. As in most societies, people emulate or at least try to emulate those at society’s top rungs, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and even fashion taste

With the President as the poster boy for gun ownership, it is no wonder that demand for guns has ballooned, and the gun business in our country has boomed. The bureaucracy Aquino leads have loosened import restrictions that the country’s imports of pistols and revolvers in his first full year in office, in 2011, have doubled to nearly 49,000 units, more than double the 20,000 average annual imports from 2001-2010 (see chart). If that rate continues, 270,000 new guns, a fourth of the currently registered pistols and revolvers, will be brought into the country by the time he steps down
What is also worrying is that just as China-made products – from cellphones to motorcycles – have deluged the country, imports of cheaper Chinese guns have risen in the past years, modeled after the American Colt 45 and the European 9 mm pistols. Some 15,000 such guns were imported in 2011, more than triple the 4,400 units shipped the previous year. These Chinese guns in 2011 accounted for 31 percent of all such imports, the biggest next to American shipments of 38 percent.

Chinese pistols have made guns more affordable for more Filipinos. Sulit.com.ph for instance lists for sale the US-made Colt 45 at P75,000; the Chinese rip-off is at P28,000. These aren’t cheap imitations, but made by the same Chinese company China North Industries Corp. (Norinco) which secretly manufactured rifles patterned after the American M-14 in the 1970s for distribution to the New People’s Army—many of which are still used today.

“Sulit.com.ph”? That’s the popular on-line shopping website. Yes, guns are now being sold through the Interenet. One post for instance is selling a Norinco NZ 85 9mm gun—a rip-off of the acclaimed Czech CZ 85 “combat pistol” for just P15,000. And just for P6,500 you can get with that a “four-year license, just bring ID pics and valid ID, no NBI or police clearance necessary”.

With such deluge of new guns into the country under this administration, we’ll be seeing more shooters like Nicole’s killer or the former Cavite barangay chairman who killed seven—including two kids– with his 45 at the start of the year, and a new generation of Rolito Gos.

New guns coming into the country have a cascading effect. Some of these 49,000 entering the country in 2011 will be bought by new gun owners, probably inspired by a gun-enthusiast president.

But many would be bought by existing gun owners replacing their old 45s and 38s maybe with the latest Glock or Colt. And those they give up will be turned over down the line, to the middle class owners and into the rural areas, and then to probably the biggest recipient of these deadly hand-me downs, the criminals.

They can thank our country’s top endorser for guns.