Why the Philippines Has Lots of Guns But Few Mass Shootings

Mass shootings are a result of a confluence of factors, but at the heart of the problem are guns—of which the Philippines has plenty. You can buy firearms in open malls. Even priests and accountants can have them.

According to reports, fixers are able to handle formalities that prevent gun owners from owning guns, including drug and psychological testing. There are approximately four million firearms within the 110 million-strong nation. Illegally owning hundreds of thousands of guns is a common problem. Poverty, corruption, crime, and outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs have left deep social scars.

Although there is not a consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting in the Philippines, it has become a common occurrence for indiscriminate gun deaths to occur. In 2013, eight people were killed and eleven injured when a drunken gunman opened fire in Cavite, the country’s southern province. This tragedy is remarkable for its rarity.

Homicides that involve firearms are not to be confused These areThe Philippines is known for its hitmen. Hire hitmen for as low as $300 Actually, in Asia the Philippines ranks among the most dangerous for firearm murders. Over 1,200 people were killed intentionally with guns in the Philippines during 2019. This meant guns killed one in every 100,000 people in the Southeast Asian country—one of the highest rates in Asia. In 2020, four people were killed by guns in the United States.

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Elections can turn out to be especially bloody with the death of poll officials and rivals. One of the country’s worst killings, the 2009 Maguindanao massacre of 58 people, took place during a gubernatorial election. However, it was an atrocity of politics. Shootings not related to politics or crime are uncommon—and there has been nothing as extreme as Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Uvalde.

“I think it’s just a matter of time,” says Gerry Caño, Dean of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Cagayan de Oro College. “I think our authorities and the public safety practitioners are just waiting for that time to happen, considering that Philippine culture is greatly influenced by the West, particularly the United States.”

However, for now powerful social factors have an inhibitory effect on the spread of indiscriminate violent acts. Raymund Narag from the Philippines, who is a Southern Illinois University criminology assistant professor and was once a prisoner, believes that mass shootings are partly deterred. hiyâTagalog for embarrassment or shame. Avoidance hiyâ, and sparing one’s family and community from it, is often described as a core Philippine value.

“It reflects on you, and reflects on your family,” Narag says. “When I was jailed, our entire clan felt humiliated.”

Visitors look at firearms on display during the Tactical, Survival and Arms Expo, Pasay City, Philippines, Nov. 15, 2019.

Rouelle Umali/Xinhua via Getty

Gun culture in the Philippines

While the right to bear arms isn’t enshrined in the nation’s constitution, as it is in the United States, there is no denying the Philippine love of guns.

When the U.S. colonized the Philippines in the early 1900s, private citizens were allowed to own high-powered guns for “lawful purposes” and hunting. After Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, owners were limited to one low-powered rifle and a pistol or revolver—and both had to be licensed. However, in 2000 President Joseph Estrada removed these limitations and gave citizens the right to have as many guns and any caliber they want.

An amendment to the 2013 gun law makes it easier for people to own guns or carry them out in public. Licensees must be at least 21 years of age and have completed a firearm safety course. Most owners can have up to 15 guns, shotguns or rifles depending on the license they hold. Collectors may own more. Some licenses are valid for 10 years.

Before he was president, Estrada was a gun-wielding hero in action movies—a genre beloved of Filipinos for playing up machismo and depicting shootouts as legitimate forms of defense in a crime-riddled country. Filipinos were able to embrace gun culture through the popularity of action movies.

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In some of the country’s poorest communities, guns became a common sight among warring gangs, who sourced low-priced firearms from illegal sellers. For people with more resources and an interest shooting for sport, there are now shooting clubs. A lot of Filipinos became gun collectors, and the wealthy began to arm their bodies with guns.

However, despite all the attention given to firearms, gun violence victims are not always random passers-by in shopping centers or movie theatres. Almost a quarter of the Philippine population falls below the poverty line and “the money or the reward seems to be the best motivating factor” in many homicide cases involving firearms, Caño says.

One provincial hitman broke the law and admitted that he had committed his crime. He was paid $500 by his child with meningitis. Another gunman confessed in April to murdering a mechanic for $400.

Children who have been displaced playing with toy guns made of wood in a shelter in Mamasapano (Maguindanao), August 22, 2018. Mamasapano is a Maguindanao municipality in the southern Philippines.

Jes Aznar/Getty Images

How hiyâPlays a part in social control

Narag claims that the strong bonds of Philippine kinship make it more probable for troubled persons to be recognized before becoming mass shooters. This contrasts with what he sees in America, where he currently lives and teaches.

“Here, if you have problems, you have to go to a health professional,” he tells TIME. “You’ll divulge everything there. You don’t talk to your neighbors—sometimes you don’t talk to your own parents—because [there isn’t] an engaged culture where one’s problem is everyone’s problem.”

Jose Antonio Clemente from the University of the Philippines is professor of sociology. “At an early age, we are trained to give importance to our families and our relationships,” he says. “Maybe at some point we’re also taught to value our community, since there are a lot of communities that are very close-knit because of the high population density.”

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The national police have established mass shooting procedures. Insurgent groups may also be discouraged from recruiting on colleges campuses by increasing the presence of police officers, according to authorities. It seems, however that the Philippines has ingrained beliefs which prevent people from using firearms indiscriminately.

It is still up for discussion whether that is sufficient. It is enough for now. hiyâ means you cannot “just start shooting people,” Narag says. “Because if that happens, you know the community won’t support you.”

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