China’s gun laws attacked after woman jailed for using air rifles at fun fair booth

Operator of fun-fair booth says she did not know it was illegal to use the firearms to shoot balloons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 11:12am

The jailing of a Tianjin fun fair stand owner for more than three years for gun possession has prompted calls for the mainland to review its firearms laws.

Lawyers and academics said there was a low level of public understanding about illegal firearms that it was easy to fall foul of the law.

Zhao Chunhua, 51, was jailed for 3½ years last month after police seized air rifles used to shoot balloons at her booth in a tourism zone in the city.

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Zhao admitted the rifles were hers but told the court she was not aware they were classified as “guns”, the Chengdu Business News reported.

Any firearm with a muzzle kinetic energy greater than or equal to 1.8 joules per square centimetre is defined as a gun on the mainland. The standard is two joules per square centimetre in Hong Kong.

Beijing-based lawyer Xu Xin, who represented Zhao, said Zhao’s air rifles should not be regarded as guns because there was only a small risk they would harm anybody.

“Zhao had no intention of committing a crime,” Xu said. “She didn’t know her air rifles were guns and that organising the game could be seen as a crime. She thought it was just an entertainment activity.”

Xu said the authorities should revert to the 2001 standard of 16 joules.

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Xu also represented Sichuan man Liu Dawei who was jailed for life last year for buying 24 replica guns on the internet.

Many internet users were sympathetic to Zhao, saying the jail term was too harsh.

“I have played this game many times. Does it mean that I would be sentenced for years for using guns frequently?” one wrote.

The mainland has some of the world’s toughest gun control laws.

Only a small number of people are allowed to possess the weapons and they must have permission from the military or police.

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Yang Xu, a counterterrorism researcher from Lanzhou University, said the country’s restrictions on firearms had become much stricter in the past decade against the backdrop of an increasing number of terror attacks.

“Hunting rifles that were common among villagers in the past are now banned,” Yang said.

He said the authorities also ­imposed tough controls on other potentially lethal implements, like kitchen knives, during important political events to minimise security threats.

You Wei, a professor from East China University of Political Science and Law, said the authorities should ramp up public awareness of the definition of a gun because most people could not tell which “gun-shaped objects are legal and which are illegal”.