Calls for more stringent regulations on guns are mounting in the wake of four shooting incidents within a month in a nation that many believed to be free from the dangers of firearms.
On Tuesday, a 42-year-old man shot a 38-year-old man who had an affair with his wife with an air gun in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province. He had held the weapon for years to fend off wild animals.
The three other cases involved unauthorized guns. On the previous day, a man in his 30s armed with two guns that had been converted from imitation weapons went on a shooting spree and wielded a knife in a residential area in Daegu.
A female university student was shot in the face and two policemen were injured in the ensuing struggle.
Police said the guns held by the suspect were not lethal but still dangerous enough to cause serious wounds.
Last Friday, a man in his 50s in Seoul attempted suicide with an unregistered J-22 pistol manufactured by Jennings in 1989 or 1990.
The deadly ware is not used by the police, nor are civilians allowed to possess it.
On March 24 also in Cheonan, a rapist who abducted a woman shot at police with a stolen shotgun. The ex-convict was allegedly planning to kill a person close to the female victim with the gun.
In Korea, gun possession is prohibited except for soldiers, police officers, hunters and other specially licensed people. However, civilians can hold air guns with a caliber of 0.20 (50 mm) or smaller.
As of last year, around 187,000 firearms including handguns, rifles and shotguns were legally held by civilians.
In 2011, 416 crimes involving guns occurred in Korea. According to the Korea Customs Service, 141 illegal firearms were seized in 2012, 160 in 2011, 177 in 2010, 392 in 2009 and 80 in 2008.
Though the number of illegally smuggled guns is thought to have decreased in recent years, experts say that there are still people in possession of illegal weapons.
In addition, more cases in which gangs are armed with guns are being reported to the police, according to experts.
“The problem is not light punishment for illegal gun holders, but loopholes in the regulations,” said Gong Jung-sik, a professor at the criminal psychology department of Kyonggi University.
“Tighter regulations of illegal guns are needed on the Internet where people have easy access to information about sales of illegal guns and how to make and alter a gun,” he said.
Police said they would make greater efforts to stop gun-related violence and prevent illegal gun trafficking while working in cooperation with the customs offices.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org