LAHORE: As the cry for Karachi’s de-weaponisation has started gaining momentum and public approval with every passing hour, people at the helm of affairs in Islamabad can gain some inspiration from China where most severe gun laws were imposed in 1966 after children armed with rifles had erroneously shot out a window at the Great Hall of the People at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square while trying to hit a sparrow.
A peek through the history of China’s Ministry of Public Security reveals that following the afore-mentioned incident at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, an exemplary blanket ban on the sale, private manufacture, possession, import and export of both guns and bullets was introduced.
China does not allow its civilian population to possess guns today, but despite extremely stringent regulations in this context, the world’s most populous nation is still striving to completely curb the gun-related crime—- which is otherwise quite rare here as compared to most developed and under-developed nations on the globe.
Weapons can only be used by the Chinese law enforcement agencies, military and paramilitary personnel entrusted with the tasks to guard sensitive Army installations, storage facilities, scientific research institutions, ammunition depots and key financial institutions.
However, non-individual entities comprising civilians are allowed to possess guns in this country to promote hunting and other sports, as “The Asian Times” wrote in its June 24, 2010 online edition: “The government has green-lighted shooting clubs in some cities, and businessmen are turning to hunting as a leisure activity.”
Possessing a single gun in China can yield a three-year prison sentence, while perpetrators of gun crimes are often executed. (Source: The Asian Times: June 24, 2010). According to official history of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, the government had also cracked down harder on gun ownership after the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations.
Moreover, the Chinese government has periodically been hosting rallies for quite a long time now, where citizens are encouraged to surrender guns in exchange for cash. In the words of the Ministry of Public Security, “One six-month campaign in 2008 had netted 79,000 guns, 1.8 million replica guns and 5.75 million bullets.”
Eminent US daily newspaper “The Wall Street Journal” had also printed exactly the same figures in its October 24, 2008 edition. This is what the “The Wall Street Journal” had stated in its October 14, 2008 edition on the subject of Chinese gun laws: “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.”
The fact that these strict regulations have contributed massively in controlling gun crime in China can be proved by the February 13, 2011 report of a noted local newspaper “The China Daily.”
Quoting the globally-acclaimed Chinese news agency Xinhua, the afore-mentioned newspaper had reported: “China’s Ministry of Public Security issued a statement on Sunday revealing the cracking of 10 major cases featuring illegal manufacturing and dealing of guns and explosives in 2010. Among the cases, police in Wuxi, East China’s Jiangsu province, busted a gang involved in the production and dealing of guns and explosives, and captured five suspects. The case led to further investigations across 30 regions. Four more criminal gangs involving 548 people were nabbed as a result. In another case, police in Shenyang, Northeast China’s Liaoning province, dismantled three gun-manufacturing sites, capturing 27 suspects and confiscating 253 guns, 21 guns in the making, and 197,000 bullets. China prohibits civilians from possessing guns, ammunitions, explosives and certain types of knives.”
The above-quoted report of “The China Daily” is an eye-opener for most countries of the world, whether developed or under-developed, because only 10 cases featuring illegal manufacturing and dealing of guns and explosives in 2010 were classified as being “major” in a country that today has a population in excess of 1.34 billion or around 20 per cent of all the human beings breathing on Earth. (Source: The Economist magazine edition of May 5, 2011).
In one of its editions, “The Asian Times” had written: “In January 2009, the Chinese police had netted 470 suspects and 183 firearms following a 40-day campaign.”
Quoting the Ministry of Public Security, “The China Daily” also wrote in its June 29, 2010 edition: “The number of criminal explosion cases as well as gun crimes in China dropped by 13.4 and 33.1 per cent year on year, respectively, in the first five months of 2010. Police nationwide seized over 351 tonnes of explosives, 1.7 million detonators, 15,000 guns, 1.84 million bullets, 300,000 imitation guns and 170,000 illegal knives since the launching of a national crackdown on illegal explosive and guns. The widespread publicity about the police crackdown apparently paid off with 3,099 tips received from the public which led to the solving of 1,538 cases and the arrest of 2,065 suspects, said the statement. Those who provided information to police were rewarded with 960,000 Yuan ($141,000) in total.”
Enthralled by its fairly effective gun control laws, China has at times been heard ‘boasting’ of its accomplishments in this regard, though it has never claimed that its ‘much-publicized’ gun laws have completely purged the country of illicit arms and their carriers.
For example, in April 2007, when a shooting rampage at the Virginia University in the United States had left 33 people dead (Source: BBC report of April 17, 2007), spokesman of China’s Public Security Ministry had reiterated his country’s stance on gun control.
“The China Daily” (edition of April 21, 2007) had quoted the spokesman of China’s Public Security Ministry as saying: “I would like to express my deep sympathy and condolences to the victims of the tragedy in the United States, which claimed the lives of many young students. The tragedy also throws into focus gun ownership in China. Strict controls have helped China avoid a US-style “gun culture” and the rampage has proved that it’s necessary to maintain this policy. The ban aims to wipe out potential danger and protect the safety of every individual citizen. If there’s no access to the weapon, people cannot commit a gun crime. The US tragedy also reminds education authorities that they should pay more attention to students’ mental health.”
However, the spokesman had realistically admitted: “Despite strict controls, illegal guns and explosives are still traded in China, and the ministry would continue its crackdowns.”
It is pertinent to note that in 2006, the same spokesman had asserted: “Although the production, sale and stockpiling of guns and explosives has been decreasing nationwide since 2001, the problem is still “severe” in some areas.”
“The China Daily” had also stated: “US media reported that more than 30,000 people die from gunshot wounds in the country annually and there are more guns in private hands than in any other country. However in China, gun crime is rare, as private citizens are forbidden from owning and selling guns. The ministry launched a national campaign against illegal guns last year. Official figures show that from last June to September, police confiscated about 178,000 illegal guns, 3,900 tonnes of explosives, 7.77 million detonators and 4.75 million bullets. Ministry figures also show that more than 3.8 million illegal weapons have been confiscated in recent years.”
China’s triumph in keeping gun-related crimes to a fairly minimal level during all these decades can be lauded even more generously if one takes into account the fact that with $6. 31 billion arms exports, the country happens to be the world’s 6th largest weapons exporter between 2001 and 2010 (according to the latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report), only behind the United States ($ 67.44 billion), Russia ($ 56.24 billion), Germany ($ 19.70 billion), France ($ 16.72 billion) and the United Kingdom ($ 10.46 billion).
The verity that China’s ban on gun ownership has reaped fabulous dividends for its citizens over the years was also acknowledged by the esteemed American newspaper “The Wall Street Journal” in its October 14, 2008 edition.
However, this prestigious American media outlet had mentioned that gun culture did exist side by side the country’s untiring efforts to de-weaponise its citizens.
“The Wall Street Journal” had stated in its afore-mentioned report: “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 Wall Street Journal” report further read: “Even as China’s government seeks to keep guns off the street, and shields its massive gun-manufacturing business behind state-secrets laws, it helps stoke the public imagination about guns. Schoolchildren learn to salute the flag shouldering imitation rifles, while state media celebrate the heroism of military and athletic marksmanship. Erosion in China’s gun controls reflects the Communist Party’s slow retreat from most people’s daily lives. Chinese increasingly spend their free time, as they want. The Party also has less power to control the supply of guns at a time when the wealthy are looking for protection and recreation, and criminals are searching for an advantage.”
The story continued: “The main source of guns appears to be lax control of gun factories and theft from arsenals. China is one of the world’s largest gun manufacturers — for the export market and for its security forces.”
“The Wall Street Journal” had viewed: “One should also consider the fact that China is one of the world’s biggest and cheapest firearms manufacturers, making it easy to assume that a gun here or there conveniently finds its way out of the factory and onto the streets. A smuggled firearm can cost anywhere from 500 to 2,000 Yuan (around $73 to $294). To put things into perspective, a handgun in the United States can run over $500.”
It goes without saying that while gun laws have worked wonders in countries like China, they have failed to show promise in United States, India, Australia, Pakistan, Turkey, former Soviet Union and most of the European nations. By the way, there is no nation on the planet which does not have gun control laws