Foreigner + Gun = Prison. It’s really quite simple.

Handguns are made for killin’, ain’t good for nothin’ else…♫Lynyrd Skynyrd

Around five years ago, I accompanied a group of colleagues from Singapore to a trade show (OTC – The huge oil industry extravaganza) in Houston. Since many in the group had never been to the USA before, and as I was their American host, I showed them around the city, and we ended up in a large outlet mall for some shopping. What was the highlight of their trip? In this particular mall, there was a Bass Pro Shops outlet, and a very large one, at that (Probably one of the company’s “flagship” stores). The group went inside and immediately went to the guns and shooting department…

Chocolates at WowPhilippines

Where they stood, fascinated and dumbstruck, looking at the huge array of guns available (I would guess, perhaps 500 models on display). The fascination was understandable. Even though the men in the group had all handled firearms in their lives (as part of Singapore’s National Service), they had never seen so many weapons available for sale, much less being able to even try them out before buying at the indoor range. You see, in Singapore, private gun ownership is illegal, and very strictly enforced. How strict? Well, getting caught with a weapon (either handgun or rifle) in your possession will get you a 20-year reservation at Changi Prison. Use that gun and injure someone (notice, I said “injure”, not “kill”), regardless of the reason or justification, and you hang.

Target Shooting
Target Shooting

Guns and firearms is a subject that is close to many Americans’ hearts, and they are a vigorously debated subject throughout the USA. I actually wrote this article because of a Facebook friend who is rabidly pro-gun… Multiple links to various “God, Guts, and Glory” sites around the web. Despite the propaganda that is issued by such groups, America is, perhaps, the most liberal country in the entire world for legal gun ownership.

In most countries, legal firearms ownership is tightly restricted for citizens, and is nearly universally forbidden for foreigners (Even in the USA, you must be a legal permanent resident in order to own ANY firearm). Indeed, though I am largely in the anti-gun camp, I have owned a few guns over the years. Indeed, I can see the attraction of collecting guns, and I do enjoy shooting at targets. It is a fun activity when done safely, and I am, honestly, a decent shot. Before I moved overseas, I got rid of them. As I’ve gotten older, the less I like them, or want them around me, or my family. Indeed, I don’t even like the idea of giving Juanito toy guns, and was pretty irate at one of his uncles who gave him a toy gun (Though it was well-intentioned). Hence, the quote that opened this article… Guns are made to kill. Human or animal, that is their only purpose.

As stated above, the vast majority of countries in the world prohibit foreigners from owning guns… And the Philippines is no different. For those wanting to know: IT IS ILLEGAL FOR A FOREIGNER TO OWN ANY FIREARM IN THE PHILIPPINES. There are a number of reasons why any foreigner should pay close attention to that statement before even considering obtaining a firearm:

  1. I will state plainly, and clearly: A foreigner has no business owning a gun here, regardless of your politics or beliefs. The law is clear. If you are a foreigner and are caught in possession of a firearm, the penalty is fine, prison, deportation, and blacklisting. Use that gun, regardless of reason, and you are in for a world of hurt.
  2. Reading online on some of the various Philippines sites and forums, various ways “around” the law are often mentioned. Most common is that your Filipino spouse may legally own a gun. That is correct. The most often cited reason is “security” (more below, but normally veiled as “fear”). However, in a worst case scenario, say that weapon is used against a burglar. The police come, and see some Kano standing there with his spouse. The “pistol-packing mama” stereotype is pretty much unknown here. Filipino women, generally, do not shoot guns. Who do you think will be blamed? Do you really want to end up in the local justice system?
  3. Security is often mentioned as the reason for wanting to own a firearm. I saw one really vigorous online debate about the topic, where Manila was mentioned as being a “lawless wasteland”. These types of comments are usually from two sources: OFWs from other provinces who are no longer living in the Philippines, or racist, redneck, retirees who, for some reason, move here and act really paranoid. I can say, categorically, in the time that I have lived here, in Manila, I have never once felt threatened to the point where I felt I needed a gun or bodyguard. I have never once felt that I needed a gun in the house to keep myself or my family safe. If you are that worried about security, then why move here? There are many things you can do to keep safe… none of which involve guns. As I’ve written before, most foreigners here get in trouble from their own actions. They make themselves targets, and highly visible ones at that. The few high-profile cases highlighted in the media normally are either simply cases of bad luck, or they are situations where having a gun would make little difference in the outcome (If you are attacked by Abu-Sayaaf, do you honestly think that your .45 pistol will make ANY difference?) The vast majority of crimes in Manila are non-violent, not necessitating deadly force. In fact, I feel far safer here than in most large cities in the USA.
  4. I have also read online that some foreigners have obtained permission to own firearms from the local police chief or the local barangay officials. Perhaps that is the case. However, such permission generally contravenes R.A. 8294, which prohibits foreigners to own firearms. The reason that some foreigners may occasionally obtain such permission is that the PNP is charged with enforcing firearms laws, and the local PNP office, in theory, could give you permission (I am not a PNP officer, so I am uncertain… There could also be corruption involved). For foreigners who are bound and determined to try this, something to keep in mind, however, is this: Rebecca’s family has several ex police chiefs, including her father and uncle. I was told that, in order to prevent sympathies with local rebels, PNP staff are routinely posted far from their home provinces, and their postings are frequently shifted. If you get permission from one chief, that permission may vanish when he is transferred, and you are now illegal. Additionally, there is a big difference between having permission to keep, and actually using a firearm. Should you hold such permission, it would be unwise to use the weapon except under the most extreme, truly life-threatening, circumstances.
  5. Guns range from the ridiculously cheap, on the black market, to the ridiculously expensive. You can even find 50 cal. machine guns, or AK 47 assault rifles for sale here. When you start talking that kind of firepower, “security” starts looking like a lame excuse.
  6. Ammunition is also tightly controlled, and very expensive here (depending on the type, from P30 to P1,000 per round). The Philippines has become a very minor destination for what you might term “gun tourism” for people from Japan, Thailand, Singapore, or China: Locations where gun ownership is tightly restricted or forbidden. As a result, a common scam has arisen, especially in Manila, where people will stand outside of hotels offering you the chance to shoot a machine gun for a ridiculously low price. The scam is that they lure you in, and charge ludicrous amounts for ammunition (which is expensive to begin with, anyway… Think about how many rounds you can shoot in just a minute) and you receive a gigantic bill, in the hundreds of US dollars. Of course, if you don’t pay, there are usually several associates nearby who are more than willing to help you find your wallet in a store filled with guns.
  7. There is a bill, Senate Bill 2993, that was introduced by Senator Lacson in October. The bill, if it passes into law, will allow limited ownership of firearms to priests, media, and a very limited number of foreigners. Don’t get to excited about this, though. The bill was introduced as a response to several recent, high profile, killings of priests and reporters in certain areas of the country where there have been problems. The foreigner provision is designed for high net-worth and high profile executives of foreign companies that are doing business in places (like the Japanese mining executives who were killed). The bill is not intended for the average foreign retiree, and you will need to prove your need and net worth in order to secure a permit: Something that 99.9% of foreigners living here will be unable to prove.
  8. Perceived threats are often just a perception. In my industry, where piracy is a big problem, the safety issue about guns onboard vessels is brought up often. Let me put it this way: Will having a few rifles onboard prevent an attack by 15 mosquito boats armed with RPGs? No. The threat is real, but there are other, far more effective, deterrents (like security guards, escorts, convoys, and new devices that are non-lethal, but effective.)

Despite the large number of guns in the country, the Philippines has a history that is decidedly not pro-gun: Guns can precipitate rebellion. The Spanish generally prohibited Filipinos from owning weapons. As an American colony, the Second Amendment rights were never extended to the Philippines. There are active rebellions in Mindanao, and the NPA is also active. One of the legacies of the Marcos years was the prohibition of Filipinos owning guns. Many kept a few hidden at home anyway, but an enduring legacy is that, even for Filipinos, it is time-consuming (At least one month for a permit) and can still be difficult to legally own a gun (There are background, employment, and income requirements).

Additionally,  laws against the use of firearms are strict, and there are huge increases in penalties if used. That is why there is a large black market for guns… They are difficult to legally acquire. As stated above: Most countries in the world do not want foreigners owning guns. Period. I can understand if you have a large collection back home, or simply enjoy hunting. However, the risks are real, and you are playing a dangerous game if you insist on keeping guns here. It is unlikely that the rules will ever be changed to allow foreigners anything even remotely similar to the loose laws in the USA. Simply get the idea out of your head and forget about it. If you don’t like it, find another country in which you can live, owning all of the guns your heart desires.