Man Kills 2 in Philippine Courtroom Shooting

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MANILA -- A Canadian man on Tuesday opened fire in a central Philippine courtroom, killing two people and wounding another before he was shot by a police officer.

The incident marks the latest in a series of high-profile shootings in the Philippines that have prompted calls for greater controls on gun ownership.

Private gun ownership is legal but regulated in the Philippines and the country has an enthusiastic gun culture, similar to that of the United States  though on a much smaller scale.

In light of recent mass shootings, a single attack is "not news anymore," said Nandy Pacheco, head of Gunless Society, which advocates tighter controls on firearms.  

The gun control debate was revived in the Philippines on Jan. 2 when a 7-year-old girl in Manila died after being hit in the head by a stray bullet during celebratory New Year's gunfire. She was one of about 40 people nationwide hit by stray bullets during the holiday.  

Two days later, an official in a village south of Manila, suspected by the police to have been using methamphetamines, opened fire on his neighbors with a .45 caliber pistol. He killed 8 people -- including a pregnant woman and a child -- and wounded 10.  

On Jan. 6, the Philippine military and police waged a gun battle with criminal suspects that left 13 dead at a roadblock about 100 miles south of Manila in Quezon Province. The circumstances surrounding the shootout led to allegations that the police and military used excessive force and the national government is investigating.

In the incident Tuesday  in Cebu, the police said that the gunman, John Pope, smuggled two pistols into a court hearing involving a dispute with his neighbor, a surgeon. Mr. Pope opened fire during the proceedings, killing his neighbor and the neighbor's lawyer and wounding one other person. Mr. Pope died of a gunshot wound but the authorities gave different accounts as to whether he died from police fire or whether he  shot himself.

It is legal for Filipino citizens to keep  a gun at home, although foreigners are prohibited from doing so. However, the weapons must be registered and background checks are required before a gun can be purchased. Guns generally may be carried in public if permits are obtained but a nationwide temporary ban on carrying guns in public has been imposed to curtail violence associated with national elections in May.  

Though there are gun control laws on the books, they are not well-enforced, said Norman Cabrera, secretary-general of the Ang Kapatiran Party -- also known as the Alliance for the Common Good -- which supports longer jail terms for gun crimes and tighter screening procedures.

"You can go to any gun store and buy a firearm and they will do all the paperwork for you," said Mr. Cabrera. "You come back in a week and you have your gun, your license, even your psychiatric test is completed for you. All these things can be worked out for you by the gun store."  

Mr. Cabrera acknowledged that passing stricter gun control laws is a challenge in the Philippines, where shooting ranges are popular and it is not unusual to see vehicles sporting stickers that state "Baby on Board," with an image of an assault rifle.

"In the Philippines, we have many influences from the United States. The gun culture is one of these influences," said Mr. Cabrera.  "Unfortunately, the Philippines has adopted one of the things that is not good about the United States: its love for guns."  

Ernesto Tabujara, who heads the organization Peaceful Responsible Owners of Guns, said  gun ownership is a necessity in the Philippines.  "We have rampant crime and the police and military are often involved," said Mr. Tabujara. "We are not as passionate about our guns as Americans. We just want to survive."

Mr. Tabujara said his organization supports the licensing of guns and screening for ownership, but that the  group vehemently opposes any restrictions on legal ownership and the right to carry a licensed firearm.  

"What happened in Cebu is proof that gun bans don't work," said Mr. Tabujara. "He was able to bring an illegal gun into a courtroom and the victims were not able to defend themselves." 

There are about 1.2 million registered firearms and about 500,000 unregistered guns in the Philippines, which has a population of almost 95 million, according to estimates from the police.

It is not clear if the recent shooting incidents will result in stricter national gun control laws. The country's popular president, Benigno S. Aquino III, is a sport shooting enthusiast who recently stated his opposition to the banning of private gun ownership.

"People are talking about it and legislators are talking about it," said Mr. Cabrera. "But we don't know if in a few weeks or months this will die down."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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