Thai PM pledges to tighten gun regulations after mass shooting at mall

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai PM pledges to tighten gun regulations after mass shooting at mall A mourner touches the casket of Moe Myint of Myanmar, a victim of a mass shooting at a shopping mall in Bangkok, as it is moved from the police hospital, Oct. 4, 2023.
Wason Wanichakorn/AP

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin promised on Wednesday to tighten gun regulations after a 14-year-old was arrested as the suspect in a deadly shooting spree at a popular Bangkok shopping mall a day earlier. 

Police said five criminal charges, including premeditated murder and illegal possession of a firearm, had been filed in juvenile court against the teenager as a result of the shooting that left two people dead and several others injured at the Siam Paragon shopping mall on Tuesday. The mall reopened Wednesday under tight security.

Although mass shootings are relatively rare in the majority-Buddhist country, the attack has raised questions about gun control in Thailand, where the Small Arms Survey (SAS) estimates that more than 10 million firearms are in the hands of civilians – the highest rate of gun ownership in Southeast Asia.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday morning, Srettha expressed his condolences and assured foreign tourists of their safety in Thailand. A Chinese national and a citizen of Myanmar were identified as the two people killed in Tuesday’s shooting spree.

“Easy access to guns is indeed a problem,” he said. “I’ve spoken with the national police chief about the proliferation of online gun sales. We are implementing stricter controls to ensure that young people cannot easily get their hands on these dangerous weapons. 

“We acknowledge this issue and it’s a part of our policy now to make firearm procurement more difficult.”

The shooting occurred as Srettha’s new government is trying to boost tourism as a driver of the country’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery, such as through waiving visa requirements for visitors from China – Thailand’s biggest source of tourist dollars.

Srettha said the government has reached out and apologized to the Chinese ambassador.

“I also assured him that the Thai government is doing its utmost to ensure the best care for the victims. The ambassador seemed to understand and felt reassured.” Srettha said.

On Tuesday evening, the suspect allegedly used a blank gun modified to fire bullets to shoot at people inside the upscale mall, killing the two foreigners and injuring five other people before police apprehended him within an hour, officials said.

In a Facebook post, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok noted that consulate officials went to the scene and visited injured victims.

In addition, Than Tui, Myanmar’s deputy ambassador to Thailand, stated that embassy officials were saddened by the incident and were meeting with survivors to prepare for the victim’s return.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin speaks to reporters at the Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok, Oct. 4, 2023. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Police Maj. Gen. Nakarin Sukontawit, a metropolitan division commander, announced the charges against the juvenile, whose name and image have not been released because of his age, to reporters at the Pathumwan Police Station.

“At the outset, the young suspect seemed cognizant of his actions, but his awareness seemed to fade subsequently. There were instances during the interrogation when he displayed symptoms of auditory hallucinations,” Nakarin said.

“We suspect he may have psychological issues. Therefore, we referred him to a psychiatric team at the Police Hospital. They confirmed he is currently not in a state to stand trial, which is why the interrogation process has been temporarily paused.” 

Unlicensed weapons

Statistical data from the Metropolitan Police Bureau revealed that between 2016 and 2019, 25,034 reported incidents involved licensed firearms, compared to 91,376 incidents involving unlicensed ones.

Insights from the Small Arms Survey in 2018 showed that Thailand has an estimated 10.3 million civilian-owned firearms, which translates to 15 firearms for every 100,000 individuals, ranking the country 48th globally and first among Southeast Asian nations. Of these, only 6.2 million firearms have proper legal documentation.

In line with Thai legislation, those convicted of unauthorized possession of firearms or ammunition could face potential jail time ranging from one to 10 years, along with a fine.

In Thailand, those who can legally own firearms must be at least 20 years old, not physically or mentally disabled, not considered mentally deranged or unstable, and should not have been previously incarcerated for criminal offenses.

In this case, police confirmed the suspect used a “blank gun,” which is considered an imitation firearm and does not require a permit unless it is modified.

A Thai security guard checks a visitor’s bag before allowing her into the Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok, Oct. 4, 2023. [Wason Wanichakorn/AP]

A Court of Justice spokesman noted that investigators must present the suspect to Juvenile Court within 24 hours of arrest, adding that his parents could face court action.

“If the minor involved has not reached the age of legal maturity [18], their parents are also held accountable under Section 429 of the Civil and Commercial Code, unless the parents can legally prove they are not at fault,” spokesman Sorawit Limprangsri said. 

Navaporn Sunanlikanon, an education and children’s rights scholar, said actions by children were the result of their entire environment, including their family, education, the community surrounding them and even the subcultures they belonged to.

“These factors can potentially lead to mental health issues,” she said. “It’s crucial to be aware of a child’s mental state, especially given the diverse causes of mental health challenges nowadays.”

“This doesn’t just mean comprehending who they are, but also understanding their thoughts, needs, and aspirations. This proactive approach ensures they are provided with what they need before they seek it out independently,” she said.


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