BANGKOK: Thailand’s prime minister on Wednesday vowed “preventive measures” after a shooting at a Bangkok shopping mall left two people dead and raised fresh questions about the kingdom’s gun control.
Shoppers returned in dribs and drabs as the Siam Paragon mall reopened less than 24 hours after the shooting — Thailand’s third high-profile deadly gun attack in four years.
The shooting at one of Bangkok’s biggest, most upmarket malls will come as a fresh blow to the kingdom’s efforts to rebuild its vital tourism industry after the pandemic.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin joined a minute’s silence at the mall before offering the government’s condolences to the families of the two female victims — one Chinese and one from Myanmar.
“I am confident Siam Paragon and government officials did their best to minimize the casualties and damage,” he said.
“Let this be the only time this happens. My government insists we will give priority to preventive measures,” he added, without giving details.
Police have charged a 14-year-old suspect with premeditated murder, attempted murder, carrying and firing a gun in a public place and owning an unlicensed firearm.
Police Major General Nakarin Sukontawit said the boy, a student at a $4,000-a-term private school just meters from Siam Paragon, was undergoing psychiatric tests to see if he is fit to stand trial.
Investigators said Tuesday the boy had been undergoing treatment for mental illness but had stopped taking his medication and reported hearing voices telling him to shoot people.
Samran Nuanma, Assistant National Police Chief, told a news conference on Wednesday that the weapon used in the attack was a blank-firing pistol.
“But the barrel was modified for live shooting,” Samran said.
“We will increase regulations and laws to control the use of firearms.”
But past promises of tightening gun laws have not prevented tragedies.
The Siam Paragon shooting came just days before the anniversary of a massacre at a nursery in northern Thailand that left 36 people dead.
And in 2020, a former army officer gunned down 29 people in a rampage at a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima.
By one estimate, Thailand has 10 million guns in circulation — one for every seven citizens, and one of the highest rates of ownership in the region.
Many firearms are smuggled into the country, but Kritsanapong Phutrakul, a former police officer and now academic, said internet sales were becoming a problem.
“Only a small number of police officers have the knowledge, capabilities and experience to track the gun market online,” he told AFP.
Thailand is desperate to rebuild its tourism sector after travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic saw visitors dwindle.
China — which sent around 10 million visitors a year before the pandemic — is a crucial market, but numbers are not returning as fast as Thai officials would wish.
This is partly because of fears in China about whether Thailand is a safe holiday destination, and the fact one of the mall shooting victims was Chinese is unlikely to improve this situation.
Srettha spoke to the Chinese ambassador Tuesday and issued a statement saying the government would implement “the highest safety measures” for tourists.
At Siam Paragon on Wednesday, AFP reporters saw that security was stepped up in some places, with bags being searched — but not on all entrances to the sprawling mall.
Russian tourist Alexander Samylin, 35, told AFP he was not worried about safety.
“It’s very safe here in Thailand, this could happen anywhere,” he said at the mall.