Philippines shootings illustrate worldwide gun violence problem

Jeff Stacklin
Jeff Stacklin and Beth Fouhy
Yahoo! News

A shooting rampage that left a pregnant woman, her 3-year-old daughter, and seven others dead on Friday near the capital of the Philippines illustrates that the United States isn’t the only nation facing problems with gun violence.

The alleged gunman had been on an alcohol and methamphetamine binge for the past week and had just returned home “because of a marital problem,” reports the Associated Press. The shooting spree began in a neighborhood outside Manila. The gunman was killed in a shootout with police.

The killings happened just three weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., when a 20-year-old gunman armed with an assault weapon murdered 26 people, including 20 children. As in the U.S., people in the Philippines already were wrestling with the problem of gun violence in their country following the death of a 7-year-old girl, who was hit by a bullet of unknown origin during traditionally noisy celebrations on New Year's Eve.

There are similarities and differences between both countries’ attitudes and cultural responses to gun violence.

While the United States has the highest per-person percentage of gun ownership in the world, according to Reuters, the Philippines has a much lower gun-ownership ratio. There are a mere 4.7 guns for every 100 Filipinos and there are 3.9 million privately licensed firearms in the Philippines. In the United States, there are 88.8 guns per 100 people and 270 million in the country, reports, a web site hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

Despite those numbers, the Philippines has a much higher gun-related homicide rate than the United States.

According to the most recently available data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there were 8.9 homicides per 100,000 people in the Pacific island archipelago in 2003, while in the United States there were 3.3 homicides per 100,000 people.

Illegal gun ownership and gun trade in the Philippines are also problems.

Filipinos are required by law to be licensed to possess a firearm, and civilians are restricted to a single pistol and either a rifle or shotgun. Even so, there are an estimated 160,750 illegal guns in the Philippines, according to, which did not have comparable U.S. data available.

Tighter gun restrictions actually encourage illegal gun trade, Reuters notes. “With legal access denied, Filipinos simply turn to the many illegal gunsmiths who ply their trade in back alleys and on the edge of rice fields despite government crackdowns.” In addition, gun laws are not vigorously enforced, and availability is as easy as visiting a gun shop in a Manila shopping mall.

By contrast, most U.S. states do not require a permit to own or buy a firearm, though some allow residents to carry concealed weapons with a permit. People must be at least 18 years old to buy a rifle or shotgun, and 21 to buy a handgun, with a background free of violent crimes and no pending criminal investigations.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook, however, has led to a review of federal gun laws and potentially a ban on assault weapons. President Barack Obama has tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to come up with a set of federal guidelines on guns. By contrast, the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobby supporting gun manufacturers, has proposed putting armed police in every school in the nation.