As Bullets Fly, a Plea for Help in Getting Guns Off Street
Zaky Pawas, Bayu Marhaenjati & Markus Junianto Sihaloho
Indonesia has been doing its best Wild West impression recently. Police officers, soldiers and civilians have been pulling out guns, waving them around and popping off shots at an alarming rate, raising the question of just how many firearms are out there and what can we do to get them off the street.
In the latest incident, a man was shot dead in a residential complex in Bandung on Friday, with witnesses reporting four shots fired from a black Daihatsu Xenia MPV into a car driven by the victim.
The police are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting.
In Medan, the police arrested a suspect after a man was shot and killed in broad daylight on Thursday in what is believed to have been a drug dispute turned deadly. And in Jakarta, the police shot and killed the suspected leader of a gang of armed robbers in Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta, on April 28.
Other recent cases include a plainclothes soldier waving a gun around during a traffic altercation in an incident that was caught on video, as well as a businessman who allegedly pointed a gun at a waiter after he believed he had been overcharged.
Neta S. Pane, from Indonesia Police Watch, said the increasing use of firearms, including among civilians, was a symptom of the police’s inability to guarantee a sense of security and law enforcement, as well as arrogance among firearm users.
He said civilians first had easy access to firearms during the early days of the reform era when the police, unable to assure security, began to issue gun permits to people, including public figures and businesspeople. The police issued some 17,000 permits for firearms, with 8,000 of them in Jakarta, IPW data shows.
The practice ended in December 2006, but since then the police have not collected many firearms with expired permits.
“There are 8,000 firearms without permits or which are otherwise illegal circulating in Jakarta,” Neta said. This number, he added, does not include firearms from conflict areas, many belonging to retired soldiers, as well as firearms illegally assembled at home.
He said firearms could be purchased on the black market for between Rp 3 million and Rp 25 million ($325 and $2,700).
“They’re easy to obtain, and to my knowledge there are even lawmakers carrying firearms without permits,” he said.
Weak legal sanctions for firearm violations can help explain the spate of recent incidents involving police officers, soldiers and civilians, he said.
“This [weak sanctions] is what should be firmly acted on, but it hasn’t been, and so incidents such as these just keep happening again and again,” he said.
Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Untung S. Rajab, said on Friday that the police would continue to take firearms with expired permits off the street. He said only about 1,000 of these guns remained in circulation and 4,000 others had already been collected.
“We are still withdrawing firearms,” he said. “On the matter of permits, civilians can still apply for one as long as it’s in line with regulations and the [permitted] aims, such as training, sports or hunting.”
Muhammad Mustofa, a criminologist from the University of Indonesia, said that psychologically, the effect of carrying a weapon, whether a firearm or a knife, was the same: It makes people feel superior.
He said current guidelines to determine whether someone could legally carry a gun were not effective. This is especially true because some people lie to beat the system, including by claiming to be members of a shooting association.
Mustofa urged the police to be more proactive in collecting firearms with expired permits, noting that they should already have the records of permit holders.
“Why don’t the police just go to them,” he said, “instead of just calling” for the weapons to be returned?
With additional reporting by Yuli Krisna & Rangga Prakoso