The Philippines has around 1.5 million licensed gun owners. It also has a high rate of violent crime compared to its neighbors in Southeast Asia. The country is in the midst of a national debate over firearms and their link to crime.
Philippine law allows citizens to possess dozens of guns. With the proper permits, even nurses, journalists and priests can take weapons to work, thanks to a 2013 law which relaxed restrictions on professions exposed to “imminent danger.”
Shooting instructor Cesar Saguiguit said gun ownership is a tradition.
“All people, our great grandfathers, loved hunting,” explained Saguiguit.
But some critics of the country’s gun culture say there is a connection between firearm ownership and violent crime.
Nandy Pacheco, who founded the group Gunless Society 25 years ago, said the Philippines’ colonial history explains why so many feel passionate about their weapons.
“We got it from the Americans. Because we were under the Americans before. We learned many good things from the Americans, but what we learned most was this addiction to violence, to guns,” said Pacheco.
Although Pacheco is not calling for a complete gun ban, he thinks weapons should not be brought into public places.
Last month’s deadly clash between government forces and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front left 44 police commandos dead and the future of peace talks in the southern Philippines unclear.
Insurgent groups as well as criminal gangs are said to rely on the black market to acquire their weapons.
And many of those illegal firearms are believed to have once been registered guns that somehow went missing.