In the past few years, Thailand has experienced three horrendous mass shootings. A soldier of the Royal Thai Army committed the first, in 2020. He killed 30 people and wounded 58 others before he was eventually shot and killed (1).
In 2022, the Nong Bua Lamphu nursery massacre claimed the lives of 36 people, including 22 children. It is the deadliest mass murder by a single perpetrator in the modern history of Thailand. The perpetrator was a former police sergeant and drug addict (2).
In 2023, a shooting took place at the famous Siam Paragon mall. A 14-year-old boy with a history of mental illness killed two people and injured 5 others. Post the shooting, police found an arsenal of weaponry in his room (3).
As a result, Thai police arrested four men suspected of illegally selling modified firearms to the teenager. The men also had illegal firearms, tools to modify pistols and narcotics in their possession. During the raid, police also found livestreaming equipment, suggesting that sales took place on social media.
In addition, incidents involving disputes and suicides are regularly reported by the media.
The aforementioned horrific crimes have damaged public confidence in gun ownership laws and left many wondering just how easy it it is to get hold of a license, or buy a gun illegally on the black market.
Firearm Ownership in Thailand
Thailand has stringent laws governing the possession and use of firearms. According to the Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks, and Imitation of Firearms Act B.E. 2490 (1947), individuals are prohibited from owning firearms unless they obtain a proper license from the authorities. This law applies to both Thai citizens and foreigners (special cases) residing in the country.
However, while Thais can legally purchase and register firearms with a background check, gun ownership lacks substantial regulations. Once granted a gun permit, it remains valid indefinitely without the need for renewal.
This atypical approach to gun ownership, distinct from many other Asian countries, likely contributes to the proliferation of firearms in Thailand.
Thailand grapples with a higher incidence of mass shootings and gun violence in Southeast Asia for several reasons. Accessibility to firearms is notably easy for military and police personnel, even off-duty or after leaving service. Former members, regardless of mental health concerns, can acquire guns through government channels, contributing to the prevalence of weapons (4).
The kingdom also contends with a thriving black market, further increasing the availability of firearms, and its proximity to a neighboring nation embroiled in civil conflict exacerbates the situation.
1. Thai Citizens
Thai citizens are eligible for gun ownership under certain conditions. They must be at least 20 years old, have a legitimate reason for owning a firearm (such as self-defense, sport shooting or professional use), and pass a background check. Criminal records or a history of mental illness can and usually do disqualify applicants.
Foreigners residing in Thailand are generally prohibited from owning firearms. There are very limited exceptions, such as diplomats and representatives of foreign governments.
3. Security Personnel
Licensed security personnel are allowed to carry firearms as part of their profession, but these individuals are subject to thorough background checks and training requirements.
Types of Firearms
The types of firearms available to the public are strictly controlled. Handguns are more easily licensed and accessible than rifles or shotguns, and the sale of automatic or semi-automatic weapons to civilians is prohibited.
Obtaining a License
- Application: Those who meet the eligibility criteria must submit an application for a firearms license to the local police station.
- Background Check: Authorities conduct a thorough background check, including criminal and mental health evaluations.
- Training: Applicants must undergo training to ensure they can handle firearms safely.
- Storage and Use: Firearms must be stored securely when not in use. Owners must also adhere to strict regulations regarding the transport and use of their firearms.
In Thailand, shooting ranges are legal and regulated. They are licensed as controlled environments for shooting practice, training and recreational shooting.
Ranges operate under the purview of government authorities such as the Royal Thai Police. These authorities oversee the issuance of licenses for shooting ranges and the use of firearms within them.
Shooting ranges are generally open to the public, both residents and tourists, who wish to experience shooting sports or practice marksmanship. Users typically need to meet certain criteria, such as being of legal age and not having a criminal record.
Foreign tourists can also visit and use these ranges, provided they meet the necessary qualifications and comply with the relevant regulations. In reality, however, shooting ranges aimed at (no pun intended) tourist experiences are easily accessible by all who apply. It is simply impossible for the range to accurately check every attendee's medical and criminal history.
Indeed, shooting ranges in tourist areas have seen a number of suicides over the years. In 2015, a British man shot himself at the Thalang range on Phuket (5). In 2022, a British serviceman shot himself at a Pattaya range (6). In 2023, a Belgium national shot himself at the Sai Yuan shooting range in Phuket (7).
It isn't just at gun ranges where foreign nationals can get hold of guns. Over the years there have been a number of expats arrested for illegal gun possession. In 2023, a New Zealander living on the island of Koh Samui was arrested after he was found with 26 guns including an AK and M16 gun (8).
Enforcement & What Now?
Violations can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment. However, enforcement clearly isn't working. The country is awash with guns, largely due to online sales where sellers use legal loopholes by selling “blank guns”, which are then converted into live firing weapons. In addition, guns are smuggled through neighboring countries.
Action is being taken. Jakkapong Sangmanee, the deputy foreign minister, recently announced, “The digital ministry will be shutting down websites selling blank guns.” Government deputy spokesperson, Karom Phonphonklang, added, “The government plans to ban imports of blank guns, BB guns and imitation firearms, and will also stop issuing additional permits for gun imports and permits for possession”.
What are your thoughts on gun ownership and access to guns and shooting ranges in Thailand?