In a bus some minutes before midnight, a friend and I, as with the rest of the passengers, cannot not listen to the late night news which was, again, about gun-related affairs the most recent that in Atimonan (Quezon). I burst out and told my friend in a voice loud enough for people around us to hear that media can be so stupid sometimes, making it look as if Philippine society is only comprised of guns, reported as if they have a life of their own, and violent citizens. My friend responded on the same tone bewailing media of its tendency to glamorize and obsess itself on events as opposed to issues (which goes to say that ‘balanced’ reporting is the reporting of events or facts and intelligent unbiased analysis of issues behind the facts). This sort of one-sided and hyper-emotional reporting plus the fact that it was close to midnight can jangle up tired nerves some more.
After a much-needed rest from travel, I updated myself of the news and arrived at some thoughts:
(1) the gun-related events, it should be understood, are extreme actions of persons in extreme circumstances, not the actions of the average person. The average person (Filipino) is the farmer, laborer, teacher, professional who toil for honest rewards day in and out, year in and out, yet is predisposed toward joy and care of kin despite the demands of work. The average person (Filipino) is not the drug addict nor is he the high stakes gambler. The average person (Filipino) is not a gun owner. In this regard, media should take care to frame their report correctly. The reported events were about the extreme actions of one and a handful of individuals only. This in view of the mass killings and decades-long conflict in Mindanao, the unbelievable poverty – economic, social, political – of millions of Filipinos and their communities, and continued disregard of indigenous Filipinos’ rights in the 21st century keeps the public from knowing and understanding the nation’s real and general issues.
In the shooting of the young child, the issue is the persistence, despite the law, of access to and use of illegal drugs (that distorts mental visions, creating the illusion that you’re seeing the devil and so you think that you’ll do the world a service if you pull the trigger on it).
In the shoot out in Atimonan, well, I see it as an issue of my-values-against-yours relative to the question, is society better off with some gamblers dead or not, with or without due process? I leave it to individual Filipinos to reflect on that.
(2) to say that the problem – hence to be solved – is the gun (or access to a licensed gun) is the reasoning of a person who is not too intelligent. It’s like saying the contraceptive, say the condom, in its unused form or still inside its packaging, will prevent pregnancy. It has to be used in order to prevent pregnancy. So with the gun. It has to be used.
It is in the usage where complications arise. In the discussions about reproductive health with local men and women, I learned that some women had unplanned pregnancies because at the last minute before coitus their partners decided (more of a case of “in the heat of passion”) to discard the condoms. Here the cause is blurred because the couples had in fact bought the thing and the men used it except that they got out of it as an irrational (or is it rational?) last minute decision. This we don’t read in national statistics and because we don’t it’s not addressed – the prescribed solution is to increase supply including education but what to educate on? Usually it’s the proper use of condoms. But what about the resolution of divergent problems such as the one I cited? Same with gun use too.
To say the solution is total gun ban will have to come from a lazy person. Some years ago, I was held up at gun point and all I can say is that I’m alive because of – I’ll come off as cheesy – a miracle. Anyway. I realized afterward that I didn’t want to be without some serious weapon (if I was ever attacked again) and I seriously contemplated getting a gun – a paradox because while the event instilled in me a deep loathing and fear of the gun it seemed at the time I had to have the thing too. In the end, I decided against owning one. My point is that licensed guns should not be restricted because anyway people who want one will get it, licensed or not. By restricting licensing of guns you open up other avenues – illegal ones – to respond to demand. With licensing, the agency can at least monitor ownership and trends. Taking cue from mental hospitals where objects that can be used as weapons are taken away from patients’ view and reach, the licensing agency should not after background check on applicants provide license to persons who fail to meet the criteria (e.g. history of drug use, history of violence, etc.). Of course we’re not naïve so as to believe that applicants who are not given license will not get the guns from other – illegal – sources. Total gun ban as a policy is therefore a myth. If DVDs can be pirated and rice smuggled guns could be too.
Child educators say it takes a whole village to raise a child. This applies as well to the issue of gun ownership – through legal means or otherwise. Take the drug addict who accidentally shot the young girl. If I were the wife (knowing my husband is using drugs and has a gun), I’d take the gun and drop it into the deep ocean. My point is for the person closest to him to keep him away from the thing which can be used for abuse when he’s not in his right mind. In short, I should be proactive about the situation rather than beat my breast afterward when it’s too late. The Barangay Captain and Council, toward the goal of a safe and secure community, and if need be, through their police powers, should have taken steps to address illegal drug use and open drunkenness in their village. The Church, if the drug addict belongs to one, should have extended some counselling and therapeutic support. In this regard, the question ‘what has caused the senseless shooting?’ is not only directed at the doer but to the significant others in the doer’s community. The guilt, pronounced by the court on the doer, also applies to these others who had “gotten away free” in a way. This is what social inclusiveness is – you can never wash your hands clean, like Pontius Pilate believes he can, from the acts and culture (values and practices) of members of your community.
(3) taking on from #2, a single policy in some contentious cases is ineffectual. What’s needed is a set of policies that cuts across aspects of human life (i.e. economy, health, education, family and marriage, local governance, role of the Church in human resource development (or has it a role?). While firming up the licensing process and database of gun ownership and clamping down on illegal or unlicensed weapon distributors and sellers as well as operators of illegal gambling joints, other sectors such as the economy should at the same time expand to provide productive opportunities for idle labor, the health sector should improve its community-based facilities and personnel to handle mental health concerns of residents as well as referral and rehabilitation of drug addicts (my experience is that there is not a village without one already, how did this come about?), the local governments to review and renew their service toward making villages safe and secure (the fact that there are tanods in every village says that safety and security is not the privilege of wealthy gated communities only; where communities are not gated or on private security service, there are the tanods), the Church should not be so high and mighty but rather in Christian humility and unity reach out to village residents, Catholic or not, and be like the good Samaritan – in other words, act on what it preaches – and it can start by coming out of their sheltered places into the streets to meet and get to know the people. In other words, everyone has a role to play.