Are guns really easily accessible in Malaysia?

Gun busts expose loopholes: Smugglers exploit porous borders, dark web

24 May 2024 08:00am
Photo for illustration purpose only by 123RF (Small photos from left: Shankar Durairaja, Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saar, R. Paneir Selvam)
Photo for illustration purpose only by 123RF (Small photos from left: Shankar Durairaja, Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saar, R. Paneir Selvam)

SHAH ALAM – Gun-related incidents have been a growing concern in Malaysia, with notable cases reported recently.

Earlier this year, a high-profile robbery involving five perpetrators resulted in a shootout with police in Petaling Jaya, leading to their demise.

This group was part of a larger gang responsible for over 50 armed robberies since 2022.

Last month, a man suspected of being an Israeli agent was arrested at a hotel in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur where he was found with six handguns.

The pistols included a Glock 19 Marine, Glock 17 Gen 4, Smith and Wesson, Sig Sauer and Stoeger, along with 200 rounds of ammunition.

He had illegally bought the firearms from a local couple, who in turn, obtained them from Thailand.

Criminologist Shankar Durairaja stressed Malaysia's stringent gun laws, where individuals must obtain permits from the police after thorough checks.

He said that there are currently two laws in Malaysia that regulate the possession of weapons - the Arms Act (1960) and the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act (1971).

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"However, this does not negate the reality that many individuals acquire firearms illegally, often as part of organised crime or for various other reasons," he told Sinar Daily when contacted.

Shankar highlighted various avenues for smuggling weapons.

He also cited data obtained from International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals of Southeast Asia (IACSP-SEA) regional director Andrin Raj, where handguns are obtained in the southern Thai region of Pattani, with illegal transactions occurring at the Hatyai border, facilitating the influx of arms into Malaysia.

"Illegal arms manufacturers in the southern Philippines produce M16A1 replicas and smuggle small handguns into Sabah through cross-border markets.

"Small handguns are manufactured and smuggled into Sabah through cross-border markets on the shores to enable trade between Malaysians and Filipinos," Shankar added.

Shankar also noted the availability of firearms on the dark web.

He cautioned that while illegal firearms can be allegedly purchased from Thai-operated websites on the dark web, law enforcement agencies closely monitor these activities, posing a significant risk of arrest and prosecution.

"There's also the risk of interception by postal or customs authorities for those obtaining firearms illegally through the dark web," he said.

Shankar emphasised Malaysia's vulnerability to illegal activities, including arms smuggling, due to its extensive coastline and porous borders.

He also pointed out the challenges in patrolling sea lanes, particularly in the strategic maritime region bordered by Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

To enhance border security, the Malaysia Checkpoints and Border Agency (MCBA) was established as the sole agency overseeing the management and control of the country's borders.

Shankar stressed the importance of addressing breaches, such as increased illegal gun smuggling, to improve border security.

In a related matter, Arunachala Research and Consultancy Sdn. Bhd (Arrescon) principal consultant R. Paneir Selvam focused on the acquisition of guns for organised crime from neighbouring countries.

He agreed that obtaining a license to own guns requires meeting clear record requirements and other specific criteria.

"They need to ensure that you have no affiliations with law enforcement or agencies.

"Once you pass verification, you're not only permitted to purchase guns but also to construct bombs," he said.

Paneir also highlighted that seasoned firearms purchasers are familiar with the various channels within Malaysia's borders, particularly vulnerable areas like the border between Thailand and Malaysia.

"That border is highly susceptible to gun smuggling activities, and they've even smuggled diesel from Malaysia into the country due to cheaper fuel prices," he said.

He also addressed the issue of human trafficking activities linked to border crossings, emphasising the need to bolster border security to combat illegal activities effectively.

Meanwhile, criminologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat emphasised that purchasing a gun in Malaysia is a complex process.

Acquiring a firearm doesn't automatically confer ownership or permit its use.

"In Malaysia, the act of buying, owning, and using firearms are separate matters regulated by strict laws," she said.

She highlighted the dual avenues of obtaining guns: legally and illegally, with the latter often occurring through the Dark Web.

"Online sellers can operate from anywhere globally, providing access to firearms via the Dark Web.

"There's a multitude of websites with various degrees of legality," she noted.