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.
But the trend is about more than crime. Guns are now fashionable in paintings and movies, while Chinese-language Web sites and glossy magazines cater to gun buffs. And legal shooting clubs in cities let customers fire away at targets for a fee. Bored with golfing, some affluent businessmen slip into the countryside for hunts.
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.