Thanks to Mao, gun violence is practically unheard of in China – the closest we’ve probably come to a drive-by is the snap, crackle and pop of New Year’s firecrackers. But recently, there’s been an increase in gun-related crimes, with police having to confront more armed suspects.
Since 1966, the country’s gun laws have remained some of the strictest in the world: the ban prohibiting gun ownership includes everything from the private manufacture and sale of bullets and guns, to their transport, possession and import or export. And even though possessing a single gun can get you a three-year prison sentence and perpetrators of gun crimes often face execution, that hasn’t stopped guns from hitting the black market, or people from going the homemade route.
Last month, upset at his divorce settlement, a security guard in Hunan province shot six people, killing three judges and wounding three others before shooting himself. He had confiscated a submachine gun and two pistols from a subordinate, claiming that they needed to be inspected, before heading to the courthouse and shooting the judges that hadn’t even ruled on his case.
Other notable instances of guns: Another man on a rampage killed five family members and neighbors with a homemade pistol in 2007; a man thought to have been killed by an exploding cell phone battery actually died when a makeshift firearm malfunctioned. Last year, we reported on a gang-related shooting in Putuo District where four homemade guns were confiscated.
The increase in gun violence, says Ding Xinzhen of Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Law, “can be attributed to the rich-poor gap and unfair distribution of social benefits, together with inefficient government management [of gun laws].” The Municipal Public Security Bureau in Chongqing reported 339 cases involving illegal guns in 2008. Last year’s Chongqing gang crackdown, where 48 guns were seized, found gang members to have connections with government officials.
One should also consider the fact that China is one of the world’s biggest and cheapest firearms manufacturers, making it easy to assume that a gun here or there conveniently finds its way out of the factory and onto the streets. A smuggled firearm can cost anywhere from 500 to 2,000 yuan (around $73 to $294). To put things into perspective, a handgun in the States can run over $500.
But apart from acknowledging the gun crime increase, authorities have yet to comment on how they plan on handling the problem.