MANILA, Philippines - Several incidents of gun violence in the first week of 2013 have sparked calls for stricter gun control laws in the Philippines, where unlicensed weapons are widely blamed for rampant violence.
At least two children were killed during New Year revelry, including a five-year-old boy who was shot with a home-made shotgun, and a seven-year-old girl who was hit by a stray bullet.
Malacañang has condemned the gun violence amid calls to impose a gun ban during the holidays.
The proposal, however, is being opposed by Pro-Gun Philippines, a collective of gun owners in the country.
According to Ernesto Tabujara III, the group's acting secretary-general, a holiday gun ban would affect responsible, law-abiding gun owners who are not involved in crimes.
"Licensed gun owners are not the problem. What should be banned are criminals and loose firearms. The gun ban would affect only the law-abiding citizens who are not really the problem dahil hindi naman gumagawa ng krimen," he told ANC.
"As long as the wielders of these permits to carry are responsible people and they have not committed any crime, they should be allowed," he added.
Tabujara said there are about 1.5 million licensed gun owners in the Philippines. Police statistics, however, say there are roughly 600,000 unlicensed firearms in circulation across the Philippines.
Tabujara said licensed gun owners condole with the victims of gun violence. He urged authorities to jail the perpetrators.
However, he also noted that stray bullet incidents during the holidays have gone down from over 100 in past years to only 40 this year, according to PNP statistics.
Guns and crazy people
In the interview, Tabujara said Pro-Gun Philippines supports 2 proposals that would lessen gun violence in the country: screening of gun owners plus safety and educational classes, and a vigorous campaign against loose firearms.
"The problem is education. If we have the wrong values and we have a gun, this kind of problem will just keep happening," he said.
Tabujara noted that the recent incident in gun violence in Kawit, Cavite, where a gunman killed 9 people by going house-to-house, could be likened to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting last year.
"This is a social, mental, family problem. Obviously, the guy was deranged and the suspect having wielded a weapon sadly was able to commit that crime," he said.
"We cannot protect ourselves from crazy people. We cannot ban them. We can only screen the people who apply for and want to possess firearms through psychitriatic and drug tests and all these other criminal background checks before we give them the license to own firearms. I think that is the best solution," he added.
He said the Kawit shooting was also a failure of law enforcement amid reports that the shooter, Ronald Bae, was linked to another shooting last year.
"Why did they allow him to go back? Definitely, there was negligence there. He should have been put in jail," he said.
The gun enthusiast said less than 1% of crimes committed in the Philippines using guns were committed by licensed gun owners. "99.9% of crimes committed using firearms involve loose firearms," he said.
Tabujara said there are already enough gun control laws in the country including a six-year penalty for carrying an unlicensed firearm. However, he noted that enforcing the law is still a problem.
"Obviously, we have to jail the criminals and do not let them hold guns. Licensed gun owners should not be harassed and equated with criminals," he said.
Meantime, a gunless society advocate believes there is "gun pollution" in the Philippines that has led to a rise in gun-related deaths.
Nandy Pacheco, founder of the Gunless Society, said authorities are powerless to stop the rise in loose firearms in the country due to lack of political will.
"The problem here is the congressmen, the senators, those in power...They set a bad example when they apply for all sorts of exemptions when there's a gun ban," he told radio dzMM.
Pacheco said he is not against people owning firearms as long as they keep their guns under lock and key.
However, he said there have been many instances where the children of gun owners use their parents' guns to commit suicide or use it on other people.
Pacheco said he is against electoral candidates who apply for permits to carry firearms because of alleged death threats. He said many electoral bets campaign with an entourage of armed bodyguards.
The Gunless Society is pushing that only law enforcers should be allowed to carry firearms outside residences. This means any person who is seen in public with a firearm but without a government uniform can be reported to authorities. -- With reports from ANC and radio DZMM