New crackdown reignites controversy over draconian gun laws
Gun enthusiasts are continuing to use the Internet for the illegal trading of firearms despite recent police crackdowns that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being detained or imprisoned.
Last week, police in Central China's Hunan and Hubei provinces, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, East China's Shandong Province and Southwest China's Guizhou Province busted several online gun trading rings.
Since July, police in Bouyei-Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Qiannan, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, have arrested 585 suspects and confiscated 387 guns in raids on several online trading rings, China Central Television reported on November 28.
Three websites were ordered to delete content or shut down during the period and more than 7,000 pieces of illegal online information were removed, said the report.
Gun trading crimes have become increasingly hard to detect, as traders often communicate in code in online chat rooms and disguise their online gun stores as hardware or toy shops, said experts.
Speaking in code
As China's online platforms have strict regulations on the selling of restricted products, many of the sellers avoid using the word "gun" when selling their products online.
Sellers and buyers tend to use gou, or dog, for gun and gouliang, or dog food, to represent bullets, a gun enthusiast in his 40s surnamed Cui told the Global Times.
Other phrases such as air dog and hand dog are used for air gun and handgun, said Cui.
Trade is rarely done on online platforms such as Taobao, and most guns are sold via QQ or WeChat, said gun enthusiasts, adding that a credible friend is usually required to introduce clients to sellers.
Furthermore, some online sellers are also offering services to modify toy guns enabling them to shoot steel or lead balls, said Cui.
A modified gun originally costing around 100 yuan () can be sold for as much as 5,000 yuan, he added.
Online trading has also expanded in scope as guns can now be easily delivered to different regions, and experienced sellers can separate guns into different parts and deliver them separately to avoid suspicion during security checks, Ruan Qilin, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.
In response to the problem, China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has strengthened scrutiny of logistics companies that could be involved in gun delivery and cracked down on illegal websites, forums, and instant messaging services that facilitate online gun trade.
"Online trading has made it difficult to detect gun dealing. However, it also leaves evidence of the crime as any deal will leave a record," Ruan said.
Meanwhile, after the ninth amendment of China's Criminal Law took effect in 2015, anyone putting information related to gun trading online also faces criminal charges, which has significantly helped prevent gun deals taking place, said Ruan.
Anyone using the Internet to publish any information relating to the production or trading of guns faces a maximum of three years in prison, according to the amendment.
Previously, gun traffickers could be convicted only after a deal was completed. Now, sellers can be convicted after publishing the information online, Ruan explained.
Setting the bar too low?
China has a strict but controversial gun policy. Many military enthusiasts unwittingly end up in hot water for buying guns that are considered toys in other parts of the world, but are seen as deadly weapons by Chinese authorities.
In a controversial imitation-gun case, Liu Dawei, 21, was sentenced to life in prison in November 2016 after he bought 24 imitation guns from a Taiwan vendor online.
According to China's Criminal Law, private ownership of guns is forbidden. Violators will be investigated for criminal responsibility and face jail sentences of at least three years.
The manufacture and sale of guns is illegal in China, and members of the general public are not allowed to own firearms. Anyone found in possession of a gun can face up to seven years in prison.
From 2011 to 2015, authorities prosecuted more than 9,000 cases of illegal manufacturing or trading replica guns or air guns involving more than 80,000 suspects, the People's Daily reported in late November.
In a document released in 2010 by the MPS, illegal firearms were defined as guns that are able to fire bullets with a specific kinetic energy of over 1.8 joules per square centimeter.
The minimum specific kinetic energy needed to penetrate human skin is 16 joules per square centimeter.
Most of the guns seized by police are air guns, which should be put in a different category, said Ruan.
Public security scholars and legal experts have called for the amendment of the definition of guns and different punishments for different gun cases. Administrative punishments should be given to those who illegally possess or trade air guns while criminal charges should be brought in cases involving lethal weapons, said Ruan.