Is this 4cm key chain a gun? Chinese police think so

An online retailer is awaiting trial for offering firearms that break muzzle energy limits, but his lawyer says the law needs to be reviewed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 8:14pm

The lawyer representing a man from southeast China who was arrested for selling miniature pistol key chains capable of firing tiny bullets has appealed for clarity on the country’s stringent gun control laws, according to state media.

The suspect, who has not been identified, was apprehended in July, but the case came to the public’s attention only on Tuesday when it was featured in a report by The Voice of China.

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While the guns function as a firearm, the suspect’s wife, identified only as Cheng, said they were not intended to be used as a weapon.

“It can be fired, but we have not made anything like gunpowder ammunition,” she said. “It’s just a small keychain pendant for collectors.”

The guns were manufactured in China and based on a design her husband had seen on a trip overseas, Cheng said. They sold online for a few hundred yuan apiece.

The radio report did not say if the tiny pistols are powerful enough to hurt or kill a human, but a video of one of them being fired was viewed more than 9 million times on social media last week. The footage, uploaded to Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, showed a person shooting small holes into a tin can from several inches.

Under Chinese law it is illegal to buy or sell firearms with a muzzle energy – the force at which the bullet leaves the barrel – equal to or greater than 1.8 joules per square centimetre.

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The problem with this measure for Yang Weihua, the lawyer representing Cheng’s husband, is that it takes no account of the physical size of either the gun or the bullet.

“The total length of the gun in this case is just 4cm. Its calibre is less than 2mm,” he said. “Can such a small thing be called a gun? And should it be judged with the same standard? This is a question worth discussing.”

The case, which is currently being reviewed before being tried is not the first to raise questions about the stringency and application of China’s gun laws.

Last year, the owner of a funfair rifle range was sentenced to 3½ years in prison after it was discovered her air guns – used to shoot balloons – exceeded the legal limits on muzzle energy.

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In response to the public outcry over that and other cases, the Supreme Court introduced new rules earlier this year requiring lower courts to consider additional factors, such as the intent of the guns’ owners and the weapons’ physical attributes, when prosecuting air gun cases.

China has some of the world’s strictest gun control laws, and ranks 102nd globally in terms of ownership, with just five firearms per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey produced by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Switzerland.