Lao authorities have put in place a new rule that requires the re-registration of firearms—including those owned by police officers, soldiers and village security officials—in an effort to eradicate illegal firearm possession, an Internal Security Ministry official said.
“All guns will be re-inspected, [including] guns already dispensed internally and guns belonging to society at large,” the official, who is based in the capital Vientiane, but declined to be named, told RFA’s Lao Service.
“Wherever the guns are—in villages, in organizations—all these will be re-inspected and have to be registered again.”
In Laos, the right to own a gun is not guaranteed by law. Only licensed gun owners, who are usually people of high social standing, can legally acquire, possess or transfer ownership of a firearm or ammunition.
Among these are members of the military, police officers and village security officials.
In addition, those who want to apply for a gun owner’s license in Laos must cite a genuine reason why they need to possess a firearm, such as for hunting.
They also must pass a background check which considers their criminal, psychological, medical and domestic violence records.
Nevertheless, many Laotians possess illegal rifles, pistols and other types of firearms, some of whom use them to commit crimes, such as residential robberies.
Although firearms are dispensed to certain groups of officials, revolutionary guards and village security guards for self-protection, some have been used illegally by their sons or other relatives.
Crime on the rise
The move comes as crime in big cities such as Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet is on the rise, a significant number of which cases have involved handguns, or in rare cases, more powerful firearms.
The most recent information from the U.S. State Department noted an increase in violent crimes involving weapons in Laos in 2013, especially with residential burglaries and some armed robberies of foreigners.
In the past, many young criminals used guns to settle disputes among themselves or to take revenge on their adversaries.
Now everyone who possesses a firearm is required to show it to the relevant authorities and have it registered or re-registered.
The crackdown will cover criminals who use illegal guns, especially handguns, and illegal gun traders, the official said.
Those who illegally possess guns or explosive materials can receive sentences of six months to five years in prison and be fined 500,000 kip-10 million kip (U.S. $62-1,233), according to Article 76 of the country’s current penal law, which was amended in November 2005.
Those who illegally sell guns or explosive material can receive jail sentences with the same terms and fined 1 million kip-20 million kip (U.S. $123-2,466).
Criminals who buy or sell guns or explosives can receive sentences of five years to 10 years and be fined 5 million kip-50 million kip (U.S. $617-6,166).