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Shooting gallery owner's case used to push for rule change

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-06 08:05

Zhao Chunhua was facing the prospect of spending Spring Festival behind bars before her appeal against her sentence for firearm offenses was upheld.

The 51-year-old had been given more than three years in prison for purchasing guns for her balloon-shooting gallery that, according to China's standards, were dangerous weapons.

Yet on Jan 26, the No1 Tianjin Intermediate Court cut her sentence to three years, suspended for three years, as she had shown remorse and had no intention to endanger public safety.

Now, legal experts hope the outcry online over the original sentence could be a catalyst for change in the definition of illegal firearms.

"I was so happy when I heard about the appeal," said Zhao Li, a Beijing lawyer who has handled similar cases. "The attention this case has gained is a real opportunity to push forward a revision of the penalties for gunrelated crimes."

According to data on Sina Weibo, Zhao Chunhua's appeal was the most-discussed topic on Jan 26, with 23 million netizens commenting or forwarding posts related to the case.

The interest is unprecedented considering that, according to several lawyers' estimates, there have been at least 20 similar cases in the past five years.

The response from netizens can largely be attributed to the defendant's attorneys, Xu Xin and Si Weijiang, who used social media and blogs to raise awareness of her plight.

The duo say they are using the momentum from this high-profile case to appeal to the Supreme People's Court to change the rules on firearms to prevent potential miscarriages of justice.

In a 2010 document from the Ministry of Public Security, an illegal firearm is any gun that can fire a bullet with a force of at least 1.8 joules per square centimeter. Six of the nine guns confiscated from Zhao Chunhua's shooting gallery ranged from 2.17 to 3.14 joules per sq cm.

The standard is strict compared with other nations. For example, in Canada, air guns that shoot with anything less than 5.7 joules of muzzle energy are exempt from requirements under the Firearms Act.

In addition, according to China's law, a person with five guns that exceed the standard automatically faces three years in prison, with six months added for every extra gun.

In 2015, a judge in Zhejiang province was given a suspended three-year sentence for buying two model guns online, according to the top court's records.

Xu argues that the standard is too low and has called on the Supreme People's Court to issue a judicial interpretation to distinguish the penalties for model guns and real ones.

Ruan Qilin, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, agrees. He added: "Defendants found with different categories of guns should face different penalties. Handing out the same punishment for model guns and real guns isn't with the rule of law, let alone justice."

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