BANGKOK: Thailand has the highest reported rate of gun-related deaths of ten countries in Asia, according to data by the University of Washington.
The country comes in at about 50 per cent higher than the Philippines, the second country on the list.
According to official statistics, approximately one in 10 people in Thailand own a gun. There are more than six million registered guns in Thailand, for a population of 67 million, says the country’s Interior Ministry. But data from gunpolicy.org, by the Sydney School of Public Health, shows that illegal guns push the figure closer to 10 million.
Owning a firearm has been legal in Thailand since 1947, with the law stating that a license can be issued for self-protection, security of property, sports and hunting.
A handgun with a permit can be bought for US$600, without the hassle of having to fill in paperwork.
At 7.48 deaths per 100,000 people in 2013, the country sees more than twice the fatalities from shootings per capita than the United States. Gun experts suggest a lack of knowledge of the Thai gun law could be a contributing factor to the fatality rate.
“People must understand the law. Many Thais own a gun but have no idea about the law,” said Wanphiti Wanalert, a former police gun instructor. “They are not even interested in knowing the law. But once you own a gun there is already a chance that you could break the law."
Thai police say a majority of cases are armed robberies, crimes of passion and organised crime. Shooting in self-defence has also contributed to these statistics, but is not considered a crime in Thailand.
“The law states that if an intruder enters our home holding a weapon, the home owner can shoot them and will be protected under the law,” said Nathapong Thuamkred from Jarrett Lloyd Legal Consultants.
A 2015 US study by The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that higher firearm ownership also increases the incidence of violent crimes involving guns.
“I want the laws to be reformed,” said Mr Wanalert. “I believe that anyone that applies to own a gun should be subjected to a psychological evaluation. Do they know how to use it? Can they handle it responsibly? Can they control themselves?”
To combat illegal firearms, Thailand has enacted several amnesty acts to encourage people to surrender their firearms – but gun ownership remains high.
Without any prominent anti-gun groups or public outcry calling for tougher gun laws, Thailand may well remain Asia's gun crime capital.