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Thailand: Amendments to Firearms Law

(Oct. 23, 2017) On October 12, 2017, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly passed amendments to the 1947 Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks, and the Equivalent of Firearms Act (the Act) at the third reading, with 201 legislators in favor, one against, and five abstentions. The amendments, made to keep pace with developments in weapons technology and changes in Thai society, will enter into effect upon publication in the Royal Gazette.  (New Legislation: Foreigners Can’t Own Guns, PHUKET GAZETTE (Oct. 13, 2017).)

The amended law will cover weapon silencers, electric darts, and new types of fireworks including bang fai (locally-made rockets) and talai (“rocket-like fireworks with a circular wing”).  (Id.)  There reportedly have been shooting contests with these two types of rockets that have resulted in injuries, deaths, and property damage.  (Id.)  The amendment further provides that anyone who creates a bomb scare may be subject upon conviction to up to three years of imprisonment and/or fined up to 60,000 Baht (about US$1,817).  (Id.)

Another significant change is that only Thais will be permitted to register a gun with the authorities. Formerly, foreigners residing in Thailand could also apply for weapons permits.  (Id.)

Some Other Features of the Current Firearms Act

The Act already prohibits the manufacture, purchase, ownership, use, ordering, or import of firearms or ammunition, except by persons who have been granted a license from the local registrar. (The Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks, and the Equivalent of Firearms Act, B.E.2490 (1947) (as amended)) § 7, THAI LAW FORUM (uploaded Mar. 11, 2013).)  Violation of this provision is punishable upon conviction with imprisonment for a period of between one and ten years and/or fines of between 2,000 and 20,000 Baht (about US$61-$606).  (Id. § 72.)

In addition, no one may possess ammunition without a license to possess and use firearms.  (Id. § 8.)  It is also prohibited for anyone to carry firearms without a license within a town, village, or public thoroughfare, except in cases of necessity or emergency.  (Id. § 8 bis.)  Carrying firearms in the open or to sites of worship, merriment, entertainment, or the like is also not permitted.  (Id.)

People may only be issued a license to own and use firearms and ammunition for purposes of self-defense, protection of property, or use in sports or hunting, and a license must be obtained for each firearm.  (Id. § 9.)  Applicants for a firearms license must be at least 20 years of age (the age of majority under the Civil and Commercial Code), have a record of good behavior, have an occupation and receive income, and have a permanent address in Thailand with a name “listed in the house registration specifically in the area where you are applying for a license, for at least six months.”  (Chaninat & Leeds, Gun Law of Thailand (Sept. 30, 2011), THAI LAW FORUM; Firearms Act, § 9; Thai Civil and Commercial Code, Title 2: Persons, § 19, THAILAND LAW LIBRARY (last visited Oct. 17, 2017).)

The application fee for most firearms licenses is 1,000 Baht (about US$30) for each license or unit; a license for possession and use of air rifles is 200 Baht per license/unit.; carry licenses are also 1,000 Baht per license. (Chaninat & Leeds, supra.)  The price of a firearm was said to be about US$600 in 2016.  (Gabriel Domínguez, A Look at Thailand’s Fervent Gun Culture, DW (Feb. 19, 2016).)

Use of firearms, ammunition, or explosives other than those specified as permissible according to ministerial regulations in the commission of certain crimes pursuant to the Penal Code is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.  (Firearms Act, § 72bis ¶ 4.)

Gun Culture

Thailand is said to have “the highest reported rate of gun-related deaths in Southeast Asia – almost 50 percent more gun homicides than the Philippines,” and, based on 2013 data compiled by the Institute for Health and Metric Evaluation of the University of Washington, “the rate is also twice as high as that of the US, which had 3.55 deaths per 100,000 people” as opposed to Thailand’s rate of 748 per 100,000 people. (Domínguez, supra.)  The same year, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Diplomatic Security characterized Thailand as having “a fervent gun culture on par with the United States and … [being] a world leader in firearms-related homicides.”  (Id.)  As reported in early 2016, the gun-ownership ratio in Thailand is also high, with more than six million registered guns among the population of 66.7 million, according to Ministry of Interior figures, or one in ten people legally owning a gun.  (Id.)  There is also a black market in which weapons are sold illegally, which could push the estimates of the actual number of civilian-held firearms in circulation, legal and illegal, to about ten million.  (Id.)