Accountants and priests can carry guns under new laws in the Philippines

Journalists learn to shoot pistols in Manila in 2005 as part of an advocacy group's campaign to curb attacks against  the media in the Philippines by arming reporters.

Story highlights

  • A new law in the Philippines allows professionals "in imminent danger" of attack to carry guns
  • Doctors, priests, accountants, journalists, and bank tellers are among those who qualify
  • Philippines authorities say the law will help them to improve the regulation of firearms

Filipino doctors, priests, journalists and accountants will be allowed to arm themselves while at work under a controversial new gun law that takes effect in their country this month.

Under the Philippines' Republic Act 10591, people working in these sectors -- along with nurses, engineers, bank tellers, and lawyers -- are considered "in imminent danger due to their profession" and will be allowed to carry small guns when outside their homes.

To qualify for a special firearms permit, people in these professions have to pass drug and psychiatric tests, and show they don't have any criminal convictions or pending cases for crimes with punishments of more than two years in prison.

This relaxes the requirements of the previous gun law, the Republic Act 8294, under which they had to prove they were under "actual threat" of danger to carry a firearm.

The regulations could be good news for reporters in the Philippines, who live in one of the world's deadliest countries for the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Some 74 journalists, mostly covering politics, have been murdered in the Philippines since 1992, the press freedom group says. In more than 70% of cases, the killers have gone unpunished.

READ: A mother's journey to bearing arms

With gun ownership high -- there were 1.2 million registered firearms in the Philippines in 2012, according to data from the National Police Firearms and Explosives Office, and estimates for unregistered weapons are in the hundreds of thousands -- firearms are often blamed for violence in the country. During New Year celebrations alone, at least 30 people were injured and one infant killed by stray bullets, the police said.

Philippines' authorities say the new law will help them better regulate the use of firearms and curb gun-related crimes, according to local media reports.

The law sets harsher penalties for individuals found guilty of possessing unlicensed guns, who now face at least 30 years in jail.

READ: Opinion: Gun violence is a public health epidemic

The Republic Act 10591 also requires gun owners to have three separate permits: a license to own a firearm, registration for the gun, and a third permit to carry the weapon outside his or her residence.

But not everyone who is eligible for the special permits will be rushing out to buy guns. Catholic priests criticized the law after it was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in May last year, saying that it was contrary to their belief that society needs peace, not violence.

"Priests are supposed to be men of peace, not of war," the Union of Catholic Asian News reported Bishop Jose Oliveros from Bulacan province as saying.

"Our Lord said: 'he who lives by the sword will die by the sword. We should not counter violence with violence."

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