Friday, November 14, 2008

The rise of guns in China

From a Wall Street Journal article:
Shanghai -- China's weapons laws are among the world's toughest. Its blanket ban on private ownership of rifles, pistols and even gun replicas is a core tenet of social policy. Still, a gun culture is taking hold.

China may be freer from gun crime than many nations, and official statistics show overall crime on a continuous down trend. Yet, these days, reports about gun crimes turn up as often as several times a week even in the tightly controlled state-run media. The reports are often brief, without much follow-up as cases progress. Still, the splashy gunfights, murders, gun-factory raids and smuggling busts that get reported contrast with China's zero-tolerance stance on guns, and point to changes in criminals' behavior.
The government holds gun-surrender drives, appealing to citizens with posters in subways to turn in arms with no questions asked, or even for cash. A six-month campaign this year netted 79,000 guns, 1.8 million replica guns and 5.75 million bullets, the Ministry of Public Security said last month. A similar effort in 2006 turned up 178,000 guns and 638,000 replicas in four months.
The Ministry of Public Security says its police increasingly face armed and aggressive suspects. Most Chinese police aren't armed, and they sometimes are provided little more than a uniform to do their job. An emerging market for bulletproofing underscores the need. At a police-gear trade show in Beijing last April, bulletproof vests bearing Chinese police logos were on display, along with bulletproof BMWs and Jaguars. DuPont Co. showed the protective qualities of Kevlar.

Like other technologies, guns have a long history here. Chinese invented gunpowder more than a thousand years ago, and soon developed one of the first guns, called a "fire spear." Rifles were widely available by the late 19th century, when war and revolution began engulfing the country. In 1938, as the Communists battled the Japanese and the ruling Nationalists for control, Mao Zedong made his famous remark that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" -- foreshadowing strict gun laws the Communists later imposed.

Gun control was introduced in 1966, after children aiming a Spanish rifle at sparrows near Tiananmen Square shot out a window in the Great Hall of the People, according to an official history of the Ministry of Public Security. Authorities grew more vigilant after the violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989, and after rapid economic growth began to spur social tensions.

Article here.

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