CRIMES involving firearms are becoming too commonplace these days. Consider the following incidents, as reported in the last few weeks:
AUG 9 Robbers shot at a victim who chased them at Pandan Perdana after robbing him of a handphone and some cash;
AUG 25 A robber, armed with an automatic pistol, struck at a jewellery shop in Jalan Datuk Bandar Tunggal, Seremban;
AUG 26 Mat Keya Jusoh, a coffee shop owner, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in Kampung Bukit Chempedak, Wakaf Tapai, Marang, while playing checkers;
AUG 27 Mohd Rahmat Jul was shot dead by a gunman at a cybercafe after a robbery at the premises at Taman Jinjang Baru, Kuala Lumpur; and,
AUG 29 K. Archuthan, 41, died after he was shot six times.
One shudders to think of the number of similar crimes that have not been reported.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes reported that firearms homicides were still low in Malaysia. (In 1997, 0.2 per 100,000 people as compared with the United States at 6.24).
However, it is much higher than the United Kingdom, another nation which prohibits private ownership of firearms (0.13 per 100,000 people). Even then, 51 per cent of homicides in Malaysia were committed using guns and the trend is rising.
What is most frightening is that some victims are innocent members of the public and, more often than not, they are killed in such crimes. The loss of fathers, sons or brothers in such a manner is an economic loss to the family.
The targets of such killings usually have dubious backgrounds, but the ease in which they are killed in public places, and mostly by a killer who remains "loose" and free for a long time, speaks volumes of the enormous difficulties in dealing with such crimes.
If this is left unchecked, gun violence will increase. A worst-case scenario can be fear and distrust, and an outflow of people from this nation, especially the best brains and the wealthy, depleting the country of critical human capital.
Tourism and foreign investments would similarly be affected if crimes involving firearms continue unabated. Violent crimes will create a vicious cycle of dysfunction, from which we may not easily recover.
Malaysia already has prohibitive laws against ownership of firearms, with heavy penalties for those who illegally possess such weapons.
Yet, there are undesirable elements in society who have easy access to these weapons.
It can be assumed that a number of guns are smuggled in from neighbouring countries and not manufactured domestically.
We have, therefore, to make efforts continuously, and not on an ad hoc basis, to enforce laws to prevent firearms from reaching the hands of those who seek to commit crimes.
Unfortunately, our borders, especially with Thailand and the Philippines, are hotbeds of armed uprisings against their respective governments, and the firearms used at these border areas can spill into Malaysia. We have to make our national borders less porous.
We have to enhance security measures at all entry points into the country. The entry points include not only airports and seaports, but also fishing jetties.
If necessary, we have to install strong security fences along our borders and increase sea patrols off our shores.
We should also make attempts to curb corruption among Immigration and Customs officers at our borders. Corruption would nullify the effectiveness of all our initiatives and efforts to curb the smuggling of weapons into the country. In this case, a mandatory death sentence is appropriate for officers proven to be corrupt.
At the same time, we have to ensure prevention of crimes involving firearms and, when they occur, the perpetrators are apprehended as soon as possible.
Such tasks involve the police, army, Customs and the Immigration Departments, and a high degree of cooperation and coordination is vital.
As such, it is prudent for the government to form a special unit comprising selected officers from these departments.
This "special unit" should be responsible solely to prevent and solve cases involving the manufacture, possession, transfer and use of illegal firearms.
Internally, the unit's intelligence section should be given adequate powers to work with local enforcement agencies in charge of the security of the nation, especially the Criminal Investigation Department and Special Branch of the police, and the intelligence units of other agencies.
This unit has to be given legal authority to arrest and detain people suspected of gun-running or illegal possession of firearms until it has sufficient evidence to bring them to trial.
The government should spare no efforts in preventing illegal weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
The future of Malaysia as an economically progressive and peaceful nation is dependent on our success in making the country a safe haven.
Syed Azauddin, Gombak, Selangor