After Thailand watched helplessly as dozens of children were killed in its deadliest mass shooting, calls have intensified for reform of the security forces and gun control measures.
After former police Sgt. Panya Kamrab walked into a day care facility during naptime Thursday and killed at least 36 people, including 24 young children and a pregnant teacher, the public has asked if the tragedy could have been avoided were the armed forces or access to guns reined in.
“He had a history of drug abuse, quarrels, and violence against others. Why had no one sent him for rehabilitation?” Kwanrat Binsri wrote in a petition on Change.org calling on the military and the police to take better care of lower-ranking officers. “Why was his permission to carry a gun not revoked?”
On Thursday, Panya carried a shotgun, pistol and a knife to the Uthai Sawan childcare center in northeastern Nong Bua Lamphu province. He attacked the children and staff before fleeing home to shoot his wife, young son, and self.
The death toll as of this morning had risen to 36, not including the gunman, with at least 10 others injured. The youngest victim was reportedly 2, while the oldest was 69. The death he left in his wake was worse than any school shootings in the United States.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who canceled a trip to Laos to fly to Nong Bua Lamphu and console the victim’s families, said health workers were doing their best to save the wounded. He also instructed mental health specialists to take care of victims’ families.
“Now, people who are injured must be saved. They must reach doctors’ hands. Blood must be in reserve,” he said to reporters. “We also have to speed up the healing of the [survived victims and victims’ families.]”
Culture of impunity
The incident occurred less than three years after the nation was shocked by another mass shooting involving a soldier in Nakhon Ratchasima province, who drove to a shopping mall and opened fire, killing 29 people and injuring dozens. Thursday was also the 46th anniversary of the massacre of dozens of students by paramilitaries and security forces at Thammasat University.
Wiroj Lakkahana-adisorn, a former lawmaker with the opposition Move Forward Party who ran unsuccessfully to be Bangkok’s governor, noted that the nation’s recent mass murders have been carried out by men in uniform with guns.
Thailand has been under direct or de facto military rule since the current prime minister, a former army commander, seized power in 2014.
Reform of the police and military are essential, Wiroj said.
“If there is no wholescale reform of police and soldiers, an incident like this will happen again,” Wiroj said. “People do not need to take risks nor feel terrified anymore.”
Parit Wacharasindhu, the party’s policy director, said the tragedy showed that “it may be time to review the law system of gun possession.”
Lt. Gen. Pisarn Mukchang, professor of criminology at the Royal Police Cadet Academy, said that the Royal Thai Police should step up regular personnel reviews, focusing on mental health and drug use.
Pisarn said Panya’s crime could be rooted in factors ranging from extreme stress, a sense of injustice, and his drug abuse. His motive for carrying out the attack at the day care center remains unclear, he added.
Guns, guns, guns
Panya was carrying a legally purchased 9mm pistol, according to Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapas, national police chief.
Earlier this year, Panya had been arrested and charged with drug-related crimes. He had been fired from the force and was on trial for drug possession with a hearing set for Thursday, according to Damrongsak.
Yet he was allowed to retain possession of his weapon.
Gun possession should be highly restricted with the maximum penalties possible, said Suriyadeo Tripathi, director of National Institute for Child and Family Development.
“I want to hurry to take proactive measures very urgently,” Suriyadeo said. “There should be a law that prohibits firearm possession whatsoever, except for the authorities who are on duty.”
The effectiveness of writing more laws is questionable when those on the books are poorly enforced.
Despite laws which strictly control firearms and their possession, Thailand is awash in guns, many of which are owned illegally. There were more than 10 million firearms in 2017, only about six million of which were registered despite the fact that illegal possession can mean 10 years in jail and a THB20,000 fine.
Thailand ranked 15th worldwide in firearm-related deaths in 2019, with 3.91 per 100,000 people. In Southeast Asia, only the Philippines had higher rates of gun deaths.
A jarring scene was created outside the daycare center this morning, where a red carpet was laid out to welcome “a royal appearance.” It was later removed.
Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered state agencies nationwide to fly their flags at half-mast today to express collective sorrow and condolences.
King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida later today will visit hospitals in Nong Bua Lamphu and Udon Thani.
The Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital continued to call for blood donations. Donations will be accepted until 4pm today.