The country invented gunpower and developed one of the world's first guns,
known as the "fire spear". Rifles played a major role in China's modern
history, from the fight against the Japanese army to the communists' victory
over the Nationalists. In 1938, Mao Zedong famously said that "political power
grows out of the barrel of a gun".
That comment perhaps foreshadowed the gun control laws later implemented by Mao
and the Communist Party - some of the most severe firearms laws in the world.
China has imposed a blanket ban on gun ownership, including replicas. Since
government has prohibited the private manufacture, sale, transport, possession
and import or export of bullets and guns.
Possessing a single gun can yield a three-year prison sentence, while
perpetrators of gun crimes are often executed.
Yet despite harsh penalties, China's Ministry of Public Safety (MPS) has said
it increasingly faces armed suspects. In the most recent high-profile case last
month, a security guard in Hunan province in southerly China, apparently upset
by a court-imposed divorce settlement, shot and killed three judges and wounded
three others before turning the gun on himself.
It was not an isolated incident. In early 2007, a man in northeast China killed
five family members and neighbors in a rampage with a homemade pistol. In
September 2007, a man in Guangzhou city in southern China was sentenced to 19
years after using a replica gun to rob a bank customer. And in December 2008, a
guard at a munitions depot shot and killed a colleague over a chess match, and
was shot to death himself by police two days later.
Guns figured prominently during the 2008 unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region,
when a policeman and a Tibetan insurgent were killed during a gun battle.
"There has been an increase [of gun crime] in recent years," said Ding Xinzhen
of Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Law. "It can be
attributed to the rich-poor gap and unfair distribution of social benefits,
together with inefficient government management [of gun laws]."
The growth of gun crimes being reported in state media coincides with the
development of a gun culture in China. Web sites and magazines cater to the
growing market. For instance, Small Arms, a bi-weekly glossy magazine, has
60,000 subscribers, and guns are regularly featured in Chinese films. The
government has green-lighted shooting clubs in some cities, and businessmen are
turning to hunting as a leisure activity.
Freshman college students can receive basic training in marksmanship, a sport
China thrived on during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
China is one of the world's largest gun manufacturers, and many guns end up on
the black market because of lax controls at factories and theft from armories.
Ding said other black market guns in China were homemade weapons of poor
quality. Other better-quality guns are smuggled into China through Myanmar.
Prices for smuggled weapons range from about 500 to 2,000 yuan (US$73 to
US$294), Ding said.
Li Dafu, a lawyer from the Henghexin law firm in Chengdu, Sichuan province in
southwest China, said that while the country had adequate gun control
regulations, the laws were often poorly enforced, particularly at the local
Li, who is also an expert on gun crime and gun control law in China, pointed to
a massive criminal trial last year in Chongqing city in southwest China, where
a massive crackdown on organized crime netted some 2,000 suspects and 48 guns,
and revealed a connection between gangs and government officials.
"The Chongqing gang cases tell us that in some places the local government has
a beneficial relationship with local crime groups. They turn a blind eye when
it concerns illegal gun use," Li said.
Chongqing has become a hotbed of illegal gun trafficking. In January 2009,
police netted 470 suspects and 183 firearms following a 40-day campaign. In
2008, Chongqing municipal public security bureau statistics showed 339 cases
involving illegal guns.
China's government periodically hosts rallies where citizens are encouraged to
surrender guns in exchange for cash. One six-month campaign in 2008 netted
79,000 guns, 1.8 replica guns and 5.75 million bullets, according to the MPS.
China introduced gun control in 1966, after children armed with rifles shot out
a window at the Great Hall of the People at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing
while trying to hit a sparrow, according to official MPS history. The
government cracked down harder on gun ownership after the 1989 pro- democracy
It needs to crack down even harder on today's rising gun crime.