The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction- Part II

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on November 8, 2010
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SMALL ARMS have destabilising impacts on both states and societies. In Southeast Asia, the destabilising nature of the proliferation and misuse of small arms (both legal and illegal) has been most evident in places like Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, and Myanmar where there are ongoing conflicts, and Timor Leste which have been recovering from the consequences of years of conflict.

In the Philippines, about 70 per cent of small arms are in the hands of civilians and 80 per cent of the illegal weapons are concentrated in restive provinces on the southern island of Mindanao – Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-tawi. Economic losses as a result of conflict in Mindanao between 1975 and 2002 was estimated at PHP 5 – 10 billion (USD 9.5 – 19 million) annually. Conservative estimates of the costs of both the Moro and Communist conflicts from 1969 to 2004 was said to be at least 120,000 fatalities, military expenditure of at least USD 6 billion, and losses in gross domestic product of at least USD 17.5 billion.

Curbing the proliferation of small arms is therefore essential. Australia offers valuable lessons in this regard. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to ban and buy back more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – after the massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania on 28 April 1996  – has cut the country’s stock of firearms by 20 per cent and roughly halved the number of households with access to guns. As a result, firearm suicides declined by 74 per cent, saving 200 lives a year.

There is now an increasing call for stricter gun controls in Southeast Asia too. The Philippine Daily Inquirer for example argues that banning guns “will make the Philippines a more peaceful and safer country”. In fact, there is no dearth of gun control legislations in Southeast Asia. The Philippines has 21 individual Executive Orders, Laws, Acts, Memorandums, Presidential Decrees, Directives and Amendments (for a comprehensive list of gun control legislation in the Philippines, click here). Similarly, Thailand has the 1947 and 1967 Acts on Controlling Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation of Firearms. However, due to weak implementation, small arms continue to proliferate. Effective implementation of existing legislations thus constitutes an important first step to control the proliferation of small arms and its misuse.

Table 1: Small arms possession in Southeast Asia

Country

Civilian guns
Government guns
Market cost of an AK-47 assault rifle (2007)
Number of Privately Owned Firearms (2007)
Rate of Civilian Firearm Possession per 100 people (2007)
Number of Privately Owned Firearms – World Ranking – out of 178 countries (2007)

Military firearms (2006)

Law enforcement firearms (2006)
Thailand
10,000,000
15.6 firearms
11
1,957,500
175,000
USD 720
Philippines
472,991
to 3,900,000
4.7 firearms
20
449,350
164,326
USD 328
Myanmar
2,000,000
4.0 firearms
34
503,500
100,800
USD 250

Indonesia
14,050 (1999)
Illicit firearms: 1,000,000 (2007)
0.5 firearms
46
2,057,700
392,000
USD 250
Vietnam
1,100,000
1.7 firearms
46
9,849,600
229,476
USD 300
Cambodia
84,588to 600,000
4.3 firearms
73
187,912 to 190,000
93,800
USD 40
Malaysia
142,038 to 370,000
1.5 firearms
96
440,250
70,000
Lao PDR
71,000
1.2 firearms
145
104,690
16,089
USD 300
Singapore
795 to 22,000
0.5 firearms
163
563,750
46,200
USD 1,500
Brunei
5,400
1.4 firearms
174
9,690
2,450
USD 1,500
Timor-Leste
3,000
0.3 firearms
177

Source: Compiled from http://www.gunpolicy.org/

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