Tragic deaths demand stricter gun control

By Feng Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-27 18:03:01

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Shanghai witnessed an unlucky and uneasy week with a chemical plant explosion injuring six on Monday, the latest H7N9 bird flu death on Wednesday and a stampede at Tongji University when David Beckham paid a visit there last Thursday. But none of these incidents were as shocking as the Saturday night gun shooting spree in suburban Baoshan district, which claimed six lives in total.

Although we hear of shooting rampages in the US from time to time, where gun control is always a hot topic of debate, Chinese people seem to take it for granted that we are safe from the menace of firearms. The Baoshan case horrified the public and overturned their assumptions about gun ownership in this country.

Fan Jieming, a 62-year-old Shanghai resident, shocked the whole country when he killed six people on Saturday. Fan had disputes with the boss of a local chemical plant, surnamed Li, which his nephew co-owned. Fan was commissioned by the nephew to help run the plant two years ago.

However, the business had problems and the plant was closed in May. Fan and Li had financial disputes over equipment that Li wanted to sell, according to early media reports.

Fan started his killing spree by beating a colleague to death on Saturday afternoon and fled the scene before local police arrived.

He then fetched a hunting gun from his dormitory and took an unlicensed taxi heading for Pudong New Area. But he changed his mind half way and shot dead the taxi driver before driving the car back to the chemical plant where police had arrived to investigate. On the way, he shot two guards at a military barracks, killing one and injuring another, before taking a rifle from them. Back at the chemical plant, Fan shot dead another three colleagues, including Li, before he was subdued by police who were at the plant dealing with the first death.

According to a source close to the case, Fan served in the army when he was young and was a good marksman. Fan had more than 20 bullets on him when he was detained. Local police haven't released information about where he obtained the weapon or the ammunition.

The case reminded me of my childhood experience using a hunting rifle. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was not uncommon to see hunting rifles in the countryside. Villagers would hunt hares, wild boar and even sparrows during winter, when hungry wild animals would try to find food in fields and mountains. Without the camouflage of leaves, they easily fell victim to hunters' shots. With the rifle butt placed on my shoulder, and the target lined up in my sight, it was not difficult for even me to catch dinner. But trouble shadows happiness. There was always news of accidental injuries; a stray bullet flying through a window and hurting a neighbor indoors or an unexpected passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's now hard even for people in the countryside to have my experience with hunting. But we have to admit that there are still hunting rifles scattered in certain corners of the country, which unfortunately can be weapons of willful misuse, as Fan's case proves.

According to a gun administration law that went into effect in 1996, only hunters and herdsmen in hunting zones or pastoral areas may apply to have hunting rifles. Illegally possessed firearms were all ordered to be handed over to designated authorities. However, it's unlikely that everyone complied with this regulation and there are surely villagers that held onto their guns, even if they are only souvenirs now.

Fan's case also shocked top officials in Beijing. On Sunday, just one day after the tragedy, Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, together with Guo Shengkun, minister of Public Security, urged a quick and thorough probe into the case, as well as a resolute fight against violent crimes that endanger public security. The Ministry of Public Security will search for and confiscate illegally owned firearms and explosives, and close all possible loopholes in relevant regulations.

We have to admit that there are conflicts of interest between different groups in society. With pressure from family and work, and with a widening gap between rich and poor, a proportion of people will regard themselves as unfairly treated. It's inevitable that some utterly desperate people will undertake extreme acts of "revenge" against society by hurting the innocent.

Shanghai's gun rampage, Fujian's bus fire which killed 47, and the latest Xinjiang's riots are all tragic lessons for both authorities and the public to find solutions to protect ourselves and others, and maintain social stability. From the central government to the grass roots, people should take actions to control destructive weapons. Otherwise, many more lives will be endangered.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Feng Yu's column

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