Thailand’s first homemade rifle spotlights strange gun culture

In one video on the Facebook page for KHT Firearms, a young woman is seen holding a fully automatic assault rifle that looks half her size.  Wearing glasses and ear protection, she fires off an explosive burst as her instructor laughs and gives the thumbs-up beside her.

“Okay, you’re out of rounds! One moment and we’ll fill up another 60 for you!” he says to the camera with a laugh. Visibly shaken, she cracks a smile in agreement.

The video is just one of many clips advertising KHT Firearm’s new compact rifles, designed specifically for an Asian market with “smaller physical bodies.”

The co-founder, Konnarong Tungfun, 39, says he has manufactured Thailand’s first homemade assault rifle, the DT17, which has a seven-inch barrel, 13 inches shorter than a standard AR-15.

The co-founders of KHT

“We are gun lovers, as the fathers of the company, we have seen pros and cons of each model and we thought to ourselves that it should fit Asian requirements,” he told Thai Enquier.

But he’s not the only one building popularity online. He shares a space in an eccentric and growing gun-loving community in Thailand where Instagram models brand themselves as pistol-packing action heroes, and gun-driven Facebook groups draw tens of thousands of followers.  

Across social media, people are buying, reviewing, and according to gun-related business owners, firing guns more than ever. There’s also a growing black market online that uses the internet as a tool to advertise and sell illegal weapons. But strict laws have made it almost impossible to manufacture weapons on Thai soil. 

Buying a weapon legally takes time and requires heavy paperwork. Yet it hasn’t stopped thousands of Thais from getting their hands on a range of weapons in a country with the highest percentages of gun ownership in Southeast Asia. 

“It’s in the millions. It’s always growing,” actor turned gun enthusiast Danai Smuthkochorn told Thai Enquirer about the number of firearms in circulation. Danai runs a popular Youtube page among the gun community, Team Tango,  where he shoots and reviews firearms with stunning ability on obstacle courses.

Danai Smuthkochorn

“A lot of it has to do with sport shooting,” he said. “Some of it is protection, but there’s a lot of people coming to me asking about how they can use a gun in self-defense. I have ranch owners, miners, people who live on the outskirts of Bangkok who have land they want to patrol or keep safe. But a huge majority are recreational shooters or sport shooters.”

But despite the growing interest, he believes the Thai government doesn’t want more guns to fall into the hands of the civilians.

“You can tell the government is not happy we have guns,” he said. “They’re trying to limit civilians’ access to firearms and we’re kind of always fighting back.” He said that although the government is reluctant to let the public buy weapons if you have the money and the know-how, it’s not difficult to acquire a firearm, Danai explained. 

But it’s not only legally challenging to produce firearms for the civilian market, but it could also be dangerous, says Michael Picard, a researcher for the University of Sydney’s

He told Thai Enquirer that Thailand had about 10 million privately owned firearms in 2016 or one for about every seven people.

“Civilians cannot purchase assault rifles,” Picard said. “State security institutions already have a glut of high-quality assault rifles, either internally produced or supplied by established international manufacturers that can offer better inducements than a small domestic manufacturer. While Thailand may support the development of a domestic arms industry, the obstacles are real, and similar enterprises in other Southeast Asian countries facing similar constraints fail to take off.”

Thailand’s potentially deadly gun culture was brought to light in February last year, when a soldier opened fire in a busy mall in Thailand’s northeastern province of Korat. The gunman killed 30 people before turning the gun on himself. It was the first mass shooting Thailand had ever seen. But shootings are frequent in Thailand. Just months before the Korat massacre, a man shot dead three people, including a young boy when he robbed a gold shop. More recently in June, an ex-special forces officer started firing into a COVID-19 field hospital, killing one.

In 2016, there were over 3,000 gun-related homicides in Thailand, a rate of around 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people, Channel News Asia reported. Much of the gun crime is linked to a thriving black market where arms dealers sell and even build deadly weapons for sale online.  Bangkok Post reported that Thai police are scrambling to figure out how to reduce the number of gun-related killings in Thailand’s Nakhon Si Thammarat, where 39 murders took place in the last year.

Picards said Thailand already has a “rampant black market for firearms,” which he says includes local craft-produced weapons. He worries that if private enterprises are allowed to manufacture military assault rifles but are unable to sell them, then it’s possible more of these weapons will end up on the black market or in neighboring countries like Myanmar.

But even in the face of criticism along with the many legal hurdles, manufacturer Konnarong feels they’re on the verge of huge success.

Konnarong’s company just finished testing their weapons with the Royal Thai Army, and the military department has approved their concept. He says they are finally moving to the procurement phase of the project.

“The country has been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for locally produced Thai firearms for 30-40 years, but it’s never happened, so they’re looking to us to make them slightly cheaper than imported guns so we’ll solve a lot of problems.”


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