Is Life That Cheap?

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The cold-blooded murder of a 43-year-old moneylender at the Setapak Central traffic junction on Wednesday, July 27 sent chills down the spines of law-abiding Malaysians. The gangland-style killing took place in broad daylight and was captured on closed-circuit television cameras of Kuala Lumpur City Council. In a matter of minutes the video went viral and the whole nation reeled in shock seeing how two hired killers emptied their handguns on the poor victim. His bullet-riddled body lay slumped on the driver’s seat, bringing an end to his nefarious lifestyle.

The killers left the scene nonchalantly riding pillion on two separate motorcycles. Both are still at large. The irony is that the murder took place a stone’s throw away from the Setapak police station. In spite of the Inspector of Police’s assurance that the killers would be hunted down and tried nothing concrete has happened thus far.

Earlier in July another grisly killing took place in Taman OUG when a woman was killed and one of her children was seriously wounded. Two gunmen opened fire on her as she left a restaurant with her five kids and her maid. Six shots were fired one hitting the lady on her neck killing her instantly. The killers are still at large.

Such incidents are common these days. It is only when lives are lost that we tend to take notice, otherwise no one gives a damn. Is life so cheap?

According to unconfirmed reports killers can be hired for as low as RM5000 and should you want to give your irritating neighbour a fright, handguns are available for rent for between RM2000 to RM3000 apiece. All you need to do is to knock on the right door or call the right number. With a porous border up north, gun-running has become big business.

Back in the 1960s right to the 1980s when communist terrorist threats were prevalent, gun-running was virtually unknown, as the border region was closed to civilians. Movements in and out of the country were monitored by the army and the police. I did many stints at border posts in Lapangan Nenering, Kelian Intan, Keroh (Pengkalan Hulu), Baling, Weng and Bukit Kayu Hitam. The Gerik-Baling road which passes through Kelian Intan and Keroh was particularly notorious as the many twists and bends provide ideal spots for ambushes. We lost many lives to the terrorists who, after springing an ambush, would disappear into the deep jungle and would be in Thailand in a matter of hours.

But despite the scarcity and the difficulty there were instances when handguns found their way to the bad hats. One likely source then was from army armouries. When my battalion was stationed at Wardieburn Camp in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur in the early 1970s, one rogue armoury sergeant was in the business of renting out pistols to gangsters. I had suspected him all along and, being the adjutant, it was my duty to apprehend him before he could cause more harm.

I had him tailed and sure enough caught him red-handed with two 9mm Brownie pistols, which he had illicitly withdrawn from one of the rifle companies’ armouries. He was court-martialled and was dishonourably dismissed from service. He had over 15 years of unblemished service behind him but greed got the better of him. The pistol was rented for RM50 each a day – a pittance today but a huge amount then.

In those heydays we used to boast to friends and family members that our lives were worth two cents – the cost of one 7.62mm or 5.56mm round. We would have a good look at our rifle magazines, which were filled with live rounds, before going on jungle patrols. A cocked rifle will fire if you mishandled it. One of my corporals was accidentally shot in the back by a soldier who slipped and fell when coming down a slippery slope in the jungles of Gubir, Kedah. One deranged soldier committed suicide while resting in his hammock. Luckily, he turned his 9mm SMG (sub-machinegun) on himself and not his platoon.

Have the police been effective in curbing gun-running, gun totting and violent crime? How is the crime index calculated? Why are the police quick to denounce a murder but are slow in reacting to one? These are burning questions on every citizen’s lips. No answers are forthcoming and none will ever come.

My theory is simple. So long as the men in blue are more concerned for the safety of political leaders than the rakyat, life will remain cheap for us all. And this is worrying.

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