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Gun violence in the US

China eases air gun laws after public outcry over harsh court rulings

Under new rules issued by China’s Supreme Court, the lower courts now must consider motivation and other factors in deciding air gun cases

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 10:41pm

China has relaxed its air gun laws after a series of controversial cases touched off criticism of the strictness and rigidity of standards used to distinguish toy firearms from real ones. 

Under new rules that were to take effect on Friday after being issued on Wednesday by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s lower courts now must consider multiple factors when determining responsibility and setting punishments in air gun cases. 

A major element in court decisions now will be the owner’s motivation for using the air gun. 

In the past, courts tended to look only at the number of air guns involved in a case or the gun’s “muzzle energy” – a term for the destructive potential a gun would have based on the amount of kinetic energy a bullet expelled from its muzzle would create. 

Judges now also must consider a gun’s appearance, what it is made of, the kind of bullets it would use and the various ways it could be bought. 

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Decisions also must weigh the ease with which a gun could be modified to cause greater damage. 

“The handling of some individual cases has raised attention from society and resulted in poor legal and social consequences,” the Supreme Court said in a document announcing the new rules on Wednesday. 

Courts should give “special consideration” to cases that involve guns bought in toy stores or that strongly look like toys, it said. 

The new rules are noteworthy in that they essentially provide some leniency in a country with some of the world’s toughest gun control laws. 

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Strong expressions of public disapproval were touched off by court rulings that severely punished owners and buyers of imitation guns for failing to know China’s strict gun classification standards. 

In January 2017, Zhao Chunhua, a 51-year-old game stall owner, was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment after police deemed that guns used to shoot balloons at her booth were real firearms. 

In 2016, Lu Dawei, 18, was jailed for life for smuggling weapons after authorities determined that 20 of the 24 imitation guns he bought from a Taiwanese seller were real guns. 

In both cases, the accused were not aware of a classification standard under which firearms with a muzzle energy of more than 1.8 joules per square centimetre were considered real guns. 

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The standard, tightened from 16 joules per sq cm in 2008, resulted in a spike in cases involving illegal firearms. 

From 2011 to 2015, more than 800,000 suspects were arrested in 9,000 cases of illegal manufacturing and selling of air guns and imitation guns, the ministry of public security said. 

The muzzle energy standards are 7.077 joules per sq cm in Hong Kong and 20 in Taiwan. 

The new laws highlight the differences between China and the US in how they treat air guns. 

The American government does not regard air guns as firearms because they expel bullets with compressed air instead of an explosive. 

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Specific US laws vary from state to state. For instance, California prohibits people under 18 from buying air guns.

By contrast, Michigan allows purchases of air guns as long as owners put an orange plastic tip on the barrel.