Fear of U.S.-style massacre resonates in Asia
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Michael Perry
April 17, 2007

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The U.S. shooting massacre in Virginia resonated across Asia on Tuesday with Australia rejecting the negative "gun culture" in America and the anti-gun lobby in the Philippines saying it feared similar carnage.

Prime Minister John Howard said tough Australian gun laws introduced after a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996 had prevented the U.S. gun culture emerging in his country.

In contrast the anti-gun lobby in the Philippines, nicknamed "The Wild West of Asia" because of the public's love affair with firearms, fears a U.S.-style massacre.

China, meanwhile, faces a growing problem of home-made guns, particularly amongst its rural poor.

In 1996 a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people at Port Arthur in Australia's worst modern-day shooting massacre.

The horror of that day prompted Howard to confront Australia's gun lobby and impose laws banning almost all types of semi-automatic weapons.

"We showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country," said Howard, extending sympathies to the families of the 32 people killed at Virginia Tech university on Monday at the hands of what he described as "a crazed gunman."

Canberra spent A$300 million ($250 million) buying more than 600,000 weapons from farmers, hunters and other members of the public before the new laws took effect.

More than 30,000 people die from gunshot wounds in the United States annually and there are more guns in private hands than in any other country. But a powerful gun lobby and support for gun ownership have largely thwarted attempts to tighten controls.

Australia's small Greens party called on Tuesday for a further review of the nation's gun control laws, saying the Virginia shooting involved a multiple-shot pistol and there were an estimated 250,000 handguns in Australia.

"We Greens are saying let's remove the potential, as far as we can, for a repeat massacre by somebody wielding a multiple-shot handgun," Greens Senator Bob Brown told reporters.


Nandy Pacheco, head of the Philippines anti-gun lobby, Gunless Society, said he feared a U.S-style massacre could happen there.

"Not a day passes without a gun-related incident happening (in the Philippines). You hear it on radio, see it on TV and read it in newspapers," he said.

Gun ownership is commonplace in the Philippines, from housewives worried about burglary to politicians fearful of assassination. There are around 1.1 million guns, and police estimate that around 30 percent of them are unlicensed.

The Philippines has not suffered a school massacre but last month two men, armed with a submachine gun, a revolver and two grenades, held dozens of children hostage to highlight inequalities in the education system.

Shootings over trivial incidents are commonplace. A few years ago several fatal karaoke bar shootouts were sparked by poor renditions of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

Six journalists were murdered last year in the Philippines, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters.

"I have a .40 calibre gun with me for protection," said Joel Egco, president of the Association of Responsible Media, a club of journalists who own guns for protection.

Gun crime is not common in China where firearms traditionally have been hard to obtain and people who illegally trade or make them can be sentenced to death. But a crackdown last year saw seizure of more than 100,000 guns and 3 million bullets.

In 2003, two people from the remote western province of Qinghai received long sentences after being found to have made over 100 guns and 500 bullets, which they had planned to sell.

Police have previously blamed poverty in places like Qinghai for helping fuel the boom in home-made guns, which can sell for more than twice the average monthly income.

In contrast, Singapore has strict anti-gun laws. Anyone caught with firearms could be jailed for up to 10 years and receive up to six strokes of the cane. Anyone found trafficking guns could be sentenced to death or jailed for life.

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