Srettha vows action on guns

The country’s prime minister vowed “preventive measures” after a shooting at a Bangkok shopping mall left two people dead and raised fresh questions about the kingdom’s gun control.

Shoppers yesterday returned in dribs and drabs as the Siam Paragon mall reopened less than 24 hours after the shooting – Thailand’s third high-profile deadly gun attack in four years.

The shooting at one of Bangkok’s biggest, most upmarket malls will come as a fresh blow to the kingdom’s efforts to rebuild its vital tourism industry after the pandemic.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin joined a minute’s silence at the mall before offering the government’s condolences to the families of the two female victims –one Chinese and one from Myanmar.

“I am confident Siam Paragon and government officials did their best to minimise the casualties and damage,” he said.

“Let this be the only time this happens. My government insists we will give priority to preventive measures,” he added yesterday, without giving details.

Police arrested a 14-year-old suspect, a student at a US$4,000 (RM18,880)-a-term private school just metres from Siam Paragon.

Investigators say the boy, who was being treated for mental illness, has not been taking his medication and reported hearing voices telling him to shoot people.

Samran Nuanma, Assistant National Police Chief, told a news conference yesterday that the weapon used in the attack was a blank-firing pistol.

“But the barrel was modified for live shooting,” Samran said.

On high alert: Security guards checking people’s bags before allowing them into the Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok. — APOn high alert: Security guards checking people’s bags before allowing them into the Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok. — AP

“We will increase regulations and laws to control the use of firearms.”

The shooting came as Srettha is trying to bolster tourism, a key driver of South-East Asia’s second largest economy that has been slow to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

China is vital to that effort as the biggest source of foreign visitors to Thailand in pre-Covid years.

Srettha’s administration last month introduced visa-free entry for Chinese nationals to facilitate travel and help overcome what Thailand had said were unfounded concerns about safety.

Thapanee Kiatphaibool, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, yesterday said government agencies would do even more to restore confidence.

“We need to improve security in all areas for Thai and foreign tourists,” she told reporters without outlining any specific steps.

But repeated promises of tightening gun laws in the past have not prevented tragedies.

The Siam Paragon shooting came just days before the anniversary of a massacre at a nursery in northern Thailand that left 36 people dead.

And in 2020, a former army officer gunned down 29 people in a rampage at a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima.

By one estimate, Thailand has 10 million guns in circulation – one for every seven citizens, and one of the highest rates of ownership in the region.

Many firearms are smuggled into the country, but Kritsanapong Phutrakul, a former police officer and now an academic, said Internet sales were becoming a problem.

“Only a small number of police officers have the knowledge, capabilities and experience to track the gun market online,” he said.

Srettha spoke to the Chinese ambassador late Tuesday and issued a statement saying the government would implement “the highest safety measures” for tourists.

At Siam Paragon yesterday, AFP reporters saw that security was stepped up in some places, with bags being searched – but not on all entrances to the sprawling mall. — AFP/Reuters

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