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Crime in Hong Kong

Hong Kong must ensure that guns are kept out of the wrong hands

This week’s deadly shootings in a city known for its safety underline the need for the authorities to maintain a tight control of firearms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 6:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 6:03am

If there is one thing that weighs in Hong Kong’s favour against negatives such as housing costs when it comes to attracting talent and families, it is its reputation as a safe city, where individuals can walk the streets without fear.

It is well deserved and rests partly on the tight control of the right to own or carry firearms. But it did not prevent a shooting incident that cost two lives on Tuesday.

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We accept that police, airport anti-terror personnel, currency couriers and the like carry guns for use as a last resort to maintain law and order and keep the city safe. We expect the authorities to be diligent in their vigilance to ensure that firearms do not find their way by any means into any other hands.

When a family dispute erupts in gunfire in a public place, as it allegedly did in Quarry Bay Park, it comes as an unexpected reality check, best summed up by an American resident who works at nearby Cityplaza: “I thought it was hard to obtain firearms here, unlike where I come from.”

It is indeed supposed to be hard to get guns now, decades after the police battled gangs responsible for violent armed robberies and kidnappings. Therefore, questions arise as to how anyone can come to be in possession of a gun and ammunition in a city with some of the strictest gun-control laws. An elderly couple were killed and two others injured. It may be fortunate no bystanders were hurt.

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Police do not rule out the possibility that guns can be ordered online, but that still leaves the question of how they can pass the security checks of a mail or courier delivery system. One possible line of inquiry whenever a gun turns up in Hong Kong is that the weapon may have been dismantled and smuggled in piece by piece in the mail.

It is good to see that Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu has asked the police to look at the smuggling of firearms into the city and see whether there are issues that need to be followed up.

Last month, Lee told lawmakers the number of cases involving smuggling by air detected by local customs authorities had nearly doubled between 2013 and last year to 7,788. Alarmingly, 70 cases last year involved firearms, ammunition and weapons.

There already exists a tough penalty of up to 14 years in jail for possession of a firearm without the permission of the police commissioner. The police should explore any potential loopholes in the gun-control system.

The importance of upholding a near-total ban cannot be overstated. This week’s incident is a reminder that the consequences of a discharge of a firearm in public, let alone among peak-hour and weekend crowds, do not bear thinking about.