Arming Civilians: Good or Bad?

Arming Civilians: Good or Bad?

The Earp brothers with Doc Holliday, characterized by Hollywood actors Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, DeForest Kelley and Martin Milner, in the Hal Wallis production of the film ‘Gunfight at O.K. Corral’ in 1957.

Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst and corrupts the best. Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.

— Ragnar Lothbrok in the Netflix television  series ‘Vikings’

SHADES of the Davao Death Squad! President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is suggesting to arm civilian volunteers, arguing that since these volunteers are considered as ‘force multipliers’, they would play an integral role in helping the Philippine National Police (PNP) “fulfill its mandate of maintaining peace and order and enforcing the law and, more importantly, restore and reinforce public trust in the national police force.”

The president must be thinking of how Davao City had become a peaceful and prosperous urban center in Mindanao with his so-called ‘ironfisted’ rule during his stint as mayor of ‘durian capital of the Philippines’ and so-called vigilantes roamed the city to go after the criminals and drug dealers that abound and had no fear of the law.

And the PNP has backed the chief executive’s suggestion to arm civilian organizations, which our national police claim as their “partners in fighting crime.”

No less than our good PNP chief, Lieutenant General Guillermo Lorenzo Tolentino Eleazar, has expressed agreement with Duterte, adding that the proposed measure was a means “to encourage volunteerism (but) definitely not vigilantism.”

That is if we believe that the president’s suggestion was made with the desire of ensuring protection for volunteers but with an assurance that those civilians who will be armed with weapons will undergo the rules and procedures for them to be given license to possess and carry firearms.

But human rights advocates are opposed to arming civilians because such a decision, they said, could exacerbate the human rights situation in the country, which has been described lately by international human rights groups as a ticking time-bomb that could explode any minute because of the unabated killings by the police and the military and justified as legitimate operations against illegal drugs and criminality.

And in a statement issued by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Jacqueline Ann De Guia, it was cited that the 1987 Constitution has stated that the government shall only maintain one police force, which is national in scope and civilian in character.

De Guia pointed out that “arming civilians without proper training, qualification and clear lines of accountabilities may lead to lawlessness and proliferation of arms, which may further negatively impact the human rights situation in the country.

And in this even justice secretary Menardo Guevarra is in agreement as he believes that the PNP is strong enough to perform its duties as enforcers of the law. Except for a few high-profile incidents of violence, criminality on the streets is at an all-time low, due in part to the health crisis the country is experiencing and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has forced most people inside their homes for fear of being infected with Covid-19 or simply following the strict quarantine protocols imposed by the authorities.

Vice president Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo is also against the arming of civilian volunteers, saying: “That’s too dangerous. It’s a big responsibility, a big accountability. Arming is not just something you do. The opportunity for abuse seems big.”

And there really is opportunity for abuse.

In the United States, we have heard and read or watched television news reports about mass shootings perpetrated by civilians—most of them suffering from depression and others even diagnosed as half-crazed individuals who simply felt the “thrill of the kill” while bearing arms deemed for protection but consequently used for aggression.

It is an accepted trend for most Americans to consult with an expert to treat their depressions (or mental disorders) and even with this there are many incidents of shootings without cause. But for us Filipinos, who rarely visit a doctor for a physical check-up and moreover for psychological diagnosis, we fear that there are ‘crazies’ out there who when armed could wreak havoc and create chaos and violence.

And what of the cases of extrajudicial killings that are said to be committed by our own police? Couldn’t armed volunteers become vigilante groups that would move around to liquidate their targets even without due process?

I recall how the Earp brothers Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt with Doc Holliday imposed a ‘no guns’ policy to control lawlessness and violence in Tombstone, Arizona. They were quite successful in stopping crime until, unfortunately, Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury stirred up trouble which ultimately ended with the ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’. And still in the aftermath of the shootout, the Earps and Doc Holliday prevailed.

In ending, let me quote from the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 26: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with thy sword.”


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