Gun owners ask police: Why pick on us?

MANILA, Philippines – Is gun ownership in the Philippines a right or a privilege?

It was a contentious question raised during a forum on "The Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act" or Republic Act 10591 held on Friday, January 10. The new law, which was implemented this year, imposes higher fines on gun use violations and introduces newer, stricter processes to obtain permits to carry firearms.

For gun owners, it's a right guaranteed by the Constitution – the right to self-defense. But police argue it's a privilege that can only be given after going through the right processes.

RA 10591, signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III in May 2013, requires gun owners to apply for a license to own a gun first, then register firearms separately.

"Gusto natin na yung license talaga, mapunta sa tao na nag-aapply. Kaya nga ang unang requirement ng ating FEO is for the person to be personally pictured in the FEO," said Philippine National Police (PNP) Civil Security Group (CSG) Chief Police Director Gil Meneses.

(We want to make sure that the licenses go to the people who applied. That's why our first requirement is for the applicant to make a personal appearance at the office of the Firearms and Explosives Office.)

New rules

The new law also means gun owners need to renew licenses to possess firearms every two years. Firearm registration, meanwhile, needs to be updated every 4 years. Extra barrels, slide receivers, and loading machines need to be registered as well.

Last year, Rappler learned how easy it was to legally purchase and own a gun in the Philippines. One gun store did not require buyers to go through a drug test, a neuro-psychiatric clearance, a mayor's clearance, and a gun club certificate. The store, the salesman said, would even take care of the gun safety seminar.

Those with existing licenses will need to go through the new system. Just when it will kick in isn't very clear just yet.

FEO Director Chief Superintendent Louie Oppus said, however, that the new system for gun registration has yet to be implemented since the PNP is still waiting for registration equipment to be complete. Oppus could not give the exact date of implementation but said it would be "very soon" and within January.

Fixing the problems

The new law faces resistance from gun owners who say it curtails their right to gun ownership, which, according to them, is akin to depriving them of their right to self-defense.

Jun Puno, a gun owner for over 20 years, said it's unfair for responsible gun owners to go through the registration process all over again.

"We don't understand: why so strict? There really was no problem with the law before. My sentiment is that they are correcting something inside," said Puno.

During the forum, Oppus himself said the new system will "minimize" human interaction during registration, hopefully a deterrent to corruption.

"If that's the issue, why are they passing it on to the gun owners? It's not our fault," Puno added. "What happened to our old records? Are they saying now that the records are missing?"

Oppus likened the new rule on gun ownership to the licenses required to drive and own a car. The change, he said, would make it easier for police to track down guns involved in crimes. "We just want to see how many people in the country have firearms. We also want to know how many firearms there are," he told the audience.

Puno also said it's unclear how the new law will solve the problem of illegal firearms. "Gun control? We're not the criminals," he said.

CSG Secretariat Police Chief Superintendent Lazarus Vargas said that out of over 2,000 incidents involving guns, 90 of them involved registered firearms.

Amend, repeal

Gun owners are calling on government to either amend or repeal the law. Or at the very least, clarify and change certain provisions in its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

Puno said that although consultations were held during the creation of the law and the IRR, it excluded some members of the gun owners' community. It was mostly businesses, sports shooters, and some gun clubs. "What about the ordinary gun owner?" he added. Puno himself was invited to consultations, but received the invite only a day before and wasn't able to attend. 

The gun veteran said he's willing to bring the case to court, but hopes it doesn't need to reach that point.

"Essentially, because they believe it's a privilege whereas in the law, it's a right, it boils down to too many things. Can they protect us?" he asked. 

Oppus, meanwhile, said the PNP is willing to make adjustments based on the feedback of gun owners, and even gave himself an ultimatum. "If you're not happy with what we're doing, sulatan niyo si Chief Police, sabihin niyo i-relieve na ako," he added.

(Write to the Chief of Police, and tell him to relieve me of my duties.) – Rappler.com