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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Guns put us all in peril

Guns put us all in peril

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A boy checks out an anti-gun sculpture in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

In the 2008 Cambodian census, the gender ratio was 94.7 males to every 100 females. The main cause of this discrepancy was the civil war more than three decades ago.

Other reasons include the fact that men are employed in more dangerous fields of work, and that many men die prematurely from smoking-related causes and alcohol abuse.

But men also die at the hands of criminals and as a result of illegal gun use.

Why is our Royal Government so careless about controlling firearms?

According to an Interior Ministry report, Cambodia’s overall crime rate decreased during the first eight months of 2012, but there was a four per cent increase in the number of armed robberies and a five per cent rise in murders.

What is also worrying is that 1200 military personnel left their bases to go to their villages, and took military equipment with them.

In 2012, 2500 people nationwide were killed in violent crimes.

Even though the number of deaths in crimes of violence fell, the figure remains scarily high.

And that figure excludes cases involving senior government officials, high-ranking officers and people from rich families.

Gun-related deaths and injuries are often eliminated from these statistics.

Often the perpetrators are living free, as happened in the Chhouk Bandeth case and the
tragic death of Chhut Vuthy.

So-called crackdowns on guns are like brief showers of rain.

There’s a shooting every day in Phnom Penh, yet before the recent ASEAN summit, officials announced in the media that because security had to be beefed up, thieves were not to steal and criminals could not use guns for several days.

This ploy was laughable but effective, and the summit was calm. But after it finished, the shootings in beer gardens, clubs and karaoke lounges suddenly resumed.

Generally, police arrest shooters to show their achievements.

But in the case of children of rich, high-ranking and well connected men who use illegal guns, the police ignore them because of who their parents are.

Often the causes of these spontaneous shootings are petty arguments or love triangles.

Take a case earlier this year in which a Cambodian student who had been studying in the US came back to visit his family.

He was shot to death one night by a young man who was a former boyfriend of the student’s new girlfriend.

The perpetrator, who fled the scene, was laster identified as a high-ranking official’s son.

Sometimes, police and local newspapers turn a blind eye by intervening and taking money from the perpetrator’s family.

These families do not want news of these crimes to reach Hun Sen, who has warned that these people will lose their titles or positions and stars if they cannot prevent their children committing crimes with illegal weapons.

Similarly, officials whose use guns illegally to shoot civilians are sent to the police or military police for punishment; they very rarely go through the court system.

Where is the equality under law?

After the first post-civil war election in 1993, illegal gun use was highly visible. Many people hired bodyguards who shot people as easily as in a cowboy movie.

The Newtown, Connecticut school massacre has caused politicians and policymakers around the world to re-start the debate on legal gun use.

In the early 2000s, the Royal Government took measures to destroy old guns and collect arms from Cambodian citizens.

The state did a good job of controlling gun use and attempting to change the public’s views on firearms, as we can see from the sculpture of a tied-up gun on a roundabout near Phnom Penh’s Japanese Bridge.

So why is gun-related violence rising almost every day? Where do the thugs and gangsters get these weapons from? Do they buy them on the black market, or do they take them from parents who are in the police or the military?

Last year, Chhoeun Chantha, the chief of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard, was arrested and accused of hiding illegal weapons in his house. Authorities collected lots of arms, big and small.

Why do private-company security guards also use firearms and wear military uniforms?

Even though Cambodia has never experienced a school massacre like the one in the US two weeks ago, there is a lot of random gun use, which makes people fear for their security. As well, a majority of illegal gun owners are not dealt with under the law.

Sometimes the public questions why the Premier was able to put an end to the Khmer Rouge menace, but hasn’t been able to control gun use as he did in 2000.

Last August and September, I visited nine states in the US, where many states allow people to buy guns legally.

On that trip, I saw banner advertisements outside stores proclaiming: “WE SELL GUNS!”

In each of those nine states, I watched television programs that openly debated gun control and invited viewers to provide feedback and criticise police face to face over the lack of community security.

When will local authorities and police in this country openly enter a debate with citizens on our own community security?

And when will it take part in helping to reduce the unnecessary deaths of so many Cambodian men?

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition. 
 

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