Firearms have been tightly controlled in China ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Currently, the primary statute in regulating firearms is the Firearms-Control Law, which took effect on October 1, 1996. Criminal offenses relating to firearms control are governed by the Criminal Law.
The Firearms-Control Law generally prohibits any private possession of firearms in China with extremely limited exceptions. Aside from firearms for military use, the Law categorizes firearms as those for official use and those for civilian use. Firearms for official use are strictly confined to the police, procuratorial personnel working on investigations, and customs personnel. In addition, guards and escort personnel working for important state defense enterprises, financial institutions, storehouses, and scientific research institutions may carry firearms if the firearms are necessary for the performance of their duties. Firearms for civilian use are permitted for specified “work units” in three areas: sports; hunting; and wildlife protection, breeding, and research. Individual hunters in hunting areas and herdsmen in pastoral areas may possess hunting rifles, which cannot be removed from those areas.
The Criminal Law provides harsh penalties for gun-control violations. Illegal possession of firearms is punishable by police supervision, criminal detention, or fixed-term imprisonment for up to seven years. Illegally manufacturing, trading, transporting, mailing, or storing five military guns, five gunpowder-propelled nonmilitary guns, ten other nonmilitary guns, fifty military bullets, five hundred nonmilitary bullets, three hand grenades, or any explosive devices that can cause serious damage is punishable by fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years, life imprisonment, or death. The same punishments may be imposed for theft or robbery of firearms, and using firearms to commit robbery.[*]
History of Firearms Control in the People’s Republic of China
Firearms are very tightly controlled in China. Firearms control has been in place for most of the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Only about twenty months after the formal establishment of the PRC, the Provisional Measures on Firearms Control were published on June 27, 1951 (Provisional Measures). Many of the articles in the Provisional Measures were designed to identify and gain control of the large number of firearms that were within the territory of China at the time as a result of the long period of civil war that ended with the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in 1949. For example, there was a provision authorizing public security organs (police) at all levels to take an inventory of all the firearms in the area, and permits could then be issued to those authorized to have firearms.
Under the Provisional Measures, aside from military personnel, government officials of a certain rank who needed firearms for their duties and who obtained approval from higher-level supervisors could receive authorization to carry guns. Faculty and students in nonmilitary schools and personnel in publicly owned factories, stores, enterprises, and mass organizations could carry guns if doing so was necessary for the performance of their duties, as long as they obtained approval from certain high-level government organs. Privately operated enterprises were allowed to keep the guns they already had if they reported the guns for registration with the public security organs, were approved, and were issued licenses. The “firearms” regulated in the Provisional Measures were rifles, carbines, pistols, and all other kinds of long or short guns, with the exception of hunting rifles.
In 1981, the 1951 Provisional Measures were replaced by the Measures on Firearms Control (Measures). The new Measures expressly brought hunting rifles and sport-shooting guns under regulation. Hunters and hunting units were generally allowed to possess hunting rifles under the Measures. Other citizens over eighteen years of age could possess up to two hunting rifles. Furthermore, the Measures added articles specifically to regulate the firearms brought into and out of the country by foreigners.
On July 5, 1996, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Firearms Control (Firearms-Control Law) was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to replace the 1981 Measures.
The Firearms-Control Law, which took effect on October 1, 1996, is the primary statute for regulating firearms. The Law authorizes the central government agencies, in particular the Minister of Public Security (MPS), to issue detailed rules regulating specific aspects of firearms control. For example, the MPS and the General Administration of Sport jointly issued the Measures for the Administration of Guns for Competitive Sport Shooting in 2010, which took effect on January 1, 2011. Agencies authorized to use guns also issue their own gun rules, such as the Rules of the People’s Procuratorate on Gun Administration, issued in 1998 by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
Supplementing the provisions provided by the Firearms-Control Law are articles in the Criminal Law governing firearms control. The Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security also contains a provision establishing penalties for minor offenses related to illegally carrying guns and ammunition.
Possession of Firearms
The approach of the Firearms-Control Law is to prohibit any private possession of firearms in China except under extremely restricted conditions. Compared with its predecessor, the range of groups and individuals permitted to possess guns is significantly narrowed. The 1981 provision allowing citizens over eighteen years of age to possess two hunting rifles was abolished; instead, the new Law permits only hunters and herdsmen to possess hunting rifles in areas delineated by provincial governments, subject to approval, and such guns cannot be brought out of these hunting or pastoral areas.
“Firearms” under the Firearms-Control Law is defined to mean “various guns that are propelled by gunpowder or pressurized air, and that use tube-like equipment to shoot metal balls or other materials that are powerful enough to injure or kill people or render them unconscious.” The manufacture, distribution, and transport of the main parts or components of guns and of ammunition are also subject to this Law.
Firearms are divided into three categories according to the purposes of their use: (1) military firearms, (2) firearms for official use, and (3) firearms for civilian use. Military firearms (those used by the army and the armed police) are separately regulated by the State Council and the Central Military Commission.
Firearms for Official Use
Firearms for official use are confined to police attached to public security organs, state security organs, prisons, reeducation camps, the courts, and the procuratorates, as well as to procuratorial personnel working on investigations and customs personnel. Guards and escort personnel working for important state defense enterprises, financial institutions, storehouses, and scientific research institutions may also be issued firearms for official use, providing that the firearms are necessary to the performance of their duties and the MPS gives its approval. In 1998, the MPS published the Measures for Equipment of Firearms for Official Use, a set of concrete rules that govern its policies “according to the principle of strict control.” Even for the firearms for official use, the process is not automatic; a firearms-possession permit from the MPS or its provincial-level counterparts must be obtained.
Firearms for Civilian Use
There are three categories of “work units” in which civilian use of firearms is permitted:
- “sports units” that are specifically engaged in shooting sports and for-profit shooting ranges, which are set up with the approval of the provincial government authorities;
- hunting grounds, which are set up with the approval of the provincial government authorities; and
- wildlife protection, breeding, and research institutions, if firearms are necessary in their operations.
The types of firearms permitted are specific to their functions, be they sport-shooting guns, hunting rifles, or anesthetizing guns.
Individual hunters in hunting areas and herdsmen in pastoral areas may apply to county-level public-security organs in the area for permission to carry hunting rifles. To do so, they must present their hunting licenses, where applicable, and identification cards.
The MPS is authorized by the Law to develop detailed rules for all civilian firearms use, to be issued with the approval of the State Council. In addition, there is a specific prohibition in the Law against removing firearms from shooting ranges or hunting rifles from designated hunting or pastoral areas.
As with the possession of firearms for official use, permits for the possession of firearms for civilian use must be obtained from public security organs at specified levels. 
Day-to-Day Management of Firearms
Anyone permitted to have firearms has the legal responsibility to ensure they are stored and used safely, and must undergo special training in this regard. One must have a permit to carry firearms, and firearms may not be carried in areas where they are not permitted. Moreover, should they be lost or stolen, the authorities must be notified immediately.
Those weapons that do not meet technical standards must be disposed of by the police. Public security officials at the provincial level have the responsibility to destroy such firearms. As an additional safety measure, the Law authorizes the authorities to conduct inspections to determine that the proper permits have been obtained, that firearms are being used properly, and that they are in good condition.
Manufacture and Distribution of Firearms
The state has established a licensing system for the manufacture and distribution of firearms. According to the Firearms-Control Law, no one, whether an individual or an enterprise, may manufacture or distribute firearms without a license. Firearms for official use as defined by the Law must be manufactured at enterprises designated by the state to do so, while those for civilian use may be made by enterprises nominated by the relevant department of the State Council and approved by the MPS. The manufacturing license and distribution license are valid for a period of three years and may be renewed through an application process. The state imposes quotas on the number of guns to be made and distributed for civilian use, and the Law outlines the system for establishing the quotas. Facilities that manufacture or distribute firearms are required to follow strict security measures and to submit to regular inspections and record checks by the authorities; in some cases, police personnel may be stationed at manufacturing plants.
Guns must be made to strict technological standards, and enterprises may not change their design functions or structures. The name of the manufacturer, the model code, and the serial number must be printed on each gun. Designs for firearms are developed by the State Council and the MPS. Imitation guns are prohibited by law from being manufactured or sold.
Local Transportation of Firearms
No one may transport firearms in China without approval. Anyone needing to transport firearms must obtain a transportation permit from the public security organs by reporting the types and numbers of the firearms to be transported, together with information on the means of transportation to be used and the routes to be followed. The transportation permit is issued by the public security organs where the recipient of the firearms is located: at the municipal level for intraprovincial transportation, or the provincial level for interprovincial transportation.
The manner in which guns are handled in transportation is also regulated by the Firearms-Control Law. Secure, enclosed facilities are to be used, and special personnel are to be assigned as escorts. Local police are to be notified if any overnight stops are made. Guns and ammunition are to be transported separately, and mailing of firearms is strictly prohibited.
Transporting Firearms into and out of China
Like its predecessor, the 1996 Firearms-Control Law also contains provisions on transporting firearms into and out of China. No one may cross the border with firearms without approval from the MPS, with limited exceptions for foreign diplomatic personnel and sports delegations bringing guns in or out of the country for shooting sports. When firearms are brought into the country, they must be registered, with approval documents, at the border checkpoint. At that time, customs officers will issue a clearance and an application must be made for a permit to carry the firearms within the country. Once the final destination within China is reached, possession permits must be applied for from the local police. When firearms are taken out of the country, approval documents are to be presented at the departure border checkpoint, where a clearance will be issued.
The Law contains special provisions for foreign diplomatic personnel. Permission must be obtained in advance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for diplomats to bring firearms into the country. The firearms must be kept within the institution that the personnel represent, and notice should be given to the Ministry when the firearms are removed from China. When firearms are carried into the country in a foreign vehicle for transit through China, this must be reported at the border and the vehicle sealed until it leaves the country. Foreign sports delegations that come to participate in shooting events, and Chinese athletes going abroad for the same purpose, must obtain approval from the General Administration of Sport to carry their sports guns.
Offenses and Penalties
The Firearms-Control Law
The Firearms-Control Law, like the 1981 Measures, does not detail punishments for major gun-related offenses; instead, it links offenses with specific Criminal Law provisions. The Law assigns punishments for minor firearms offenses as follows:
- Enterprises that are licensed to do business making and selling firearms can have their licenses suspended or revoked if they exceed their authorization as to types or quantities of weapons, deal in incorrectly labeled weapons, or market items internally that are meant for export.
- Those who transport firearms without properly following the regulations for security and safety can be punished with criminal detention for up to fifteen days if the case is not serious enough to constitute a crime under the Criminal Law.
- Anyone who leases or lends firearms in violation of the Law can be detained by public security organs for a period of up to fifteen days or fined up to 5,000 yuan (about US$803) if the case is not serious enough to constitute a crime under the Criminal Law.
- Those who disregard stipulated technical standards in manufacturing firearms, carry them to places where they are not permitted, fail to report thefts of firearms promptly, fail to surrender improperly made firearms, or make or sell counterfeit firearms, aside from possible criminal indictments, may be warned, fined, or detained for up to fifteen days. Counterfeit firearms are to be confiscated, a fine of up to 5,000 yuan may be imposed, and in serious cases business licenses may be revoked.
- Police who improperly allocate guns, illegally issue permits to carry guns, keep confiscated items for themselves, or otherwise fail to carry out duties regarding firearms in a way that causes adverse consequences will be investigated to determine criminal responsibility and can be subjected to disciplinary punishment, even if they are not held liable under the Criminal Law.
The Criminal Law
Cases of serious firearms-control offenses are punishable under the Criminal Law, which provides harsh penalties for gun-related offenses. Detailed rules on the application of these Criminal Law provisions are provided by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) through judicial interpretations. The most recent version of the interpretation (SPC Interpretation) was published in 2009 and took effect on January 1, 2010.
Crimes Endangering Public Security
Most gun-related offenses are regulated by Criminal Law articles under the chapter “Crimes Endangering Public Security.” Article 125 of the Criminal Law provides that those who illegally manufacture, trade, transport, mail, or store any guns, ammunition or explosives be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than ten years; if the circumstances are serious, the offender is sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years, life imprisonment, or death. According to the SPC Interpretation, illegally manufacturing, trading, transporting, mailing, or storing five military guns, five gunpowder-driven nonmilitary guns, ten other nonmilitary guns, fifty military bullets, three hand grenades, and explosive devices that can cause serious damage may be deemed “serious circumstances” under article 125 of Criminal Law, which are punishable with death. When it is a work unit or enterprise that is guilty of the offense, that entity is fined and responsible management personnel may be subject to the same punishments as an individual convicted of the crime.
Enterprises legally designated or permitted to manufacture or distribute firearms that do not follow firearms-control regulations are subjected to fines, and their leaders may be punished with up to five years of imprisonment. If the circumstances are serious, their punishment is from five to ten years; in “especially serious” cases, the sentence is ten years or more, or life imprisonment. The Criminal Law outlines the actions that in general trigger these penalties. These actions include exceeding the limits of quantity or variety the enterprise is permitted to make or sell, for the purpose of illegal sales; manufacturing unmarked, redundantly marked, or falsely marked firearms, also for the purpose of illegal sales; and illegally selling firearms, which includes selling arms within China that were made for export. According to the SPC Interpretation, illegally manufacturing more than twenty guns, selling more than ten guns, or “other flagrant circumstances such as those causing serious consequences” may constitute “serious circumstances”; illegally manufacturing more than fifty guns, selling more than thirty guns, and “other flagrant circumstances such as those causing serious consequences” may be deemed “especially serious” and are punishable with life imprisonment.
According to article 127 of the Criminal Law, the stealing or forcible seizure of firearms, ammunition, or explosives is punishable, depending on the seriousness of the case, with three to ten years of imprisonment, ten or more years, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty. Moreover, robbery of any guns, ammunition, or explosives, or stealing or forcibly seizing such articles from state organs, members of the armed forces, the police, or the people’s militia is punishable by fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years, life imprisonment, or death.
Anyone illegally possessing, concealing, lending, or leasing firearms, ammunition, or explosives is subject to police surveillance, criminal detention, or imprisonment for up to seven years, depending again on the seriousness of the case. “Illegal possession” means persons not authorized to be equipped with guns and ammunition possessing these articles in violation of the gun-control laws, while “illegal concealing” refers to those authorized to be equipped with guns and ammunition keeping the articles in private beyond the period of authorization and refusing to hand them over.
Those who have legal charge of firearms but lose them and do not report the loss promptly may be punished with up to three years of imprisonment or criminal detention. Those who endanger public security by illegally carrying firearms, ammunition, or explosives into public places or onto public transportation may be punished, when circumstances are serious, with up to three years of imprisonment, criminal detention, or public surveillance if the circumstances are serious.
Under ordinary circumstances, robbery is punishable by fixed-term imprisonment of three to ten years with a fine. However, under certain circumstances, the penalties may be increased to fixed-term imprisonment of more than ten years, life imprisonment, or death, with a fine or confiscation of property. Using firearms to commit robbery is one such circumstance.
Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security
The Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security contains one provision on minor offenses related to illegally carrying firearms. A person who illegally carries firearms and ammunition, or crossbows and daggers, may be detained for not more that five days and may, in addition, be fined not more than 500 yuan; if the circumstances are relatively minor, he is given a warning or fined not more than 200 yuan. A person who illegally carries firearms and ammunition, or crossbows and daggers, to a public place or aboard public transportation may be detained for not less than five days but not more than ten days and may, in addition, be fined not more than 500 yuan.
On the morning of December 14, 2012, the same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the US, a man in central China’s Henan Province walked into an elementary school and began attacking children with a knife. Twenty-three of the children were injured, according to the report of the official Xinhua News Agency, but none seriously. The man had allegedly obtained the weapon when he burst into an elderly woman’s house near the elementary school earlier that morning, hit her, and then stabbed her with the kitchen knife he picked up in the house.
One American commentator used this incident in China to highlight the difference between the US and China’s approaches to firearms control, writing, “[t]hat’s the difference between a knife and a gun.” The domestic media in China likewise acclaims China’s “strictest firearms-control policy,” asserting there are significantly fewer crimes committed with guns and explosives in China than in many other countries. There were only five hundred criminal offenses committed with guns and two hundred explosions reported nationwide in 2011, according to Xinhua, in a nation with a population of about 1.34 billion.
Nevertheless, the country still faces the challenges of the illegal possession, manufacture, and trade of firearms, as well as armed offenses. From time to time the MPS has launched campaigns to fight firearms-control offenses. According to the most recent statistics released by the MPS, the police uncovered about 670 secret sites for the illegal manufacture and distribution of guns in the campaign launched in 2012. After investigating around 14,000 cases involving the illegal possession, manufacture, and trade of guns and explosives, the police apprehended 20,000 suspects belonging to 360 criminal organizations; 160,000 guns and 2,780 tons of explosives were seized during the campaign.
Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
- Qiangzhi Guanli Zanxing Banfa [Provisional Measures on Firearms Control] (approved for publication by Zhengwu Yuan, June 27, 1951), Gongan Fagui Huibian [Collection of Public Security Laws and Regulations] 228–31 (1980). [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 15. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 7 & 8. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 10. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 1. [Back to Text]
- Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Qiangzhi Guanli Banfa [The PRC Measures on Firearm Control] (approved by the State Council, Jan. 5, 1981, put into effect by the Ministry of Public Security, Apr. 25, 1981), Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Gongan Fagui Xuanbian [Selected Collection of Public Security Laws and Regulations in the People’s Republic of China] 97–102 (1982). [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 2. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 6. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 24–29. [Back to Text]
- Firearms-Control Law, Chinese text in Zhonghua Renmin Gngheguo Guowuyuan Gongbao [Gazette of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China] 805–14 (Aug. 1, 1996), English translation available at Westlaw China (by subscription). [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- Sheji Jingji Tiyu Yundong Qiangzhi Guanli Banfa [Measures for the Administration of Guns for Competitive Shooting Sports] (Sept. 20, 2010), MPS website, http://www.mps.gov.cn/n16/n1282/n3493/ n3778/n4288/2526414.html. [Back to Text]
- Renmin Jianchayuan Qiangzhi Guanli Guiding [People’s Procuratorate (SPP) Rules on Administration of Guns] (issued July 9, 1998), SPP website, http://www.spp.gov.cn/site2006/2006-02-22/00026-76.html. [Back to Text]
- Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Xingfa [PRC Criminal Law] (promulgated by the NPC, July 1, 1979, revised Mar. 14, 1997, effective Oct. 1, 1997, last amended Feb. 25, 2011), Xinbian Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Changyong Falu Fagui Quanshu [New Complete Frequently Used Laws and Regulations of the People’s Republic of China] 6-1 to 6-46 (2012), English translation available at Luo Wei, Amended and Annotated Criminal Code of China (2012). [Back to Text]
- Zhi’an Guanli Chufa Fa [Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security] (adopted by the NPC Standing Committee, Aug. 28, 2005), art. 32, 2005 The Laws of the People’s Republic of China 55, 63. [Back to Text]
- Firearms-Control Law arts. 6, 10, 12. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 46. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 48. [Back to Text]
- Article 2(2) of the Law states, “[w]here other regulations are formulated by the State Council and the Central Military Commission regarding control of guns with which the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese People’s Armed Police Forces, and the Militia are armed, those regulations shall apply.” Id. art. 2(2). [Back to Text]
- Id. ch. 2. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 2(2). [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 5. [Back to Text]
- Gongwu Yongqiang Peibei Banfa [Measures on Equipment for Guns for Official Use] (republished by the MPS, Aug. 28, 2002, Gong An Bu Gong Zhi  No. 128), Chinese Government Public Information Online (Shandong Station), http://govinfo.nlc.gov.cn/sdsfz/xxgk/sdsgat/201209/P020120914242146736728.doc. [Back to Text]
- Firearms-Control Law art. 7. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 6. [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 10. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 6. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 12. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 7–11. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 23–24. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 25. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 27–29. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 13–15. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 16–17, 19. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 18(2), 20. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 18. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 21.[Back to Text]
- Id. art. 22. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 30. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 31–32. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 33 & 36. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 37. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 34. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 38. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 35. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 40. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 42. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 43. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 44. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 45. [Back to Text]
- Zuigao Renmin Fayuan Guanyu Shenli Feifa Zhizao, Maimai, Yunshu Qiangzhi, Danyao, Baozhawu Deng Xingshi Anjian Juti Yingyong Falv Ruogan Wenti de Jieshi [The SPC Interpretation on Certain Issues Regarding the Specific Application of Laws in the Trial of Criminal Cases Involving the Illegal Manufacture, Trading, and Transportation of Guns, Ammunition, and Explosives] (issued Nov. 16, 2009, effective Jan. 1, 2010), SPC website, http://www.court.gov.cn/qwfb/sfjs/201002/t20100210_1069.htm. [Back to Text]
- Id. arts. 1–2. [Back to Text]
- Criminal Law art. 125(3). [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 126.[Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- SPC Interpretation art. 3. [Back to Text]
- Criminal Law art. 127. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 128. [Back to Text]
- SPC Interpretation art. 8. [Back to Text]
- Criminal Law art. 129. [Back to Text]
- Id. art 130. The last set of punishments also applies to those carrying controlled types of knives and materials of a combustible, radioactive, poisonous, or corrosive nature. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 263. [Back to Text]
- Zhi’an Guanli Chufa Fa [Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security] (adopted by the NPC Standing Committee, Aug. 28, 2005) art. 32, 2005 The Laws of the People’s Republic of China 55, 63. [Back to Text]
- China School Attack Suspect Arrested, Xinhuanet (Dec. 17, 2012), http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/ china/2012-12/17/c_132045807.htm. [Back to Text]
- James Fallows, American Exceptionalism: The Shootings Will Go On, The Atlantic (Dec. 14, 2012). [Back to Text]
- Gong’an Jiguan Yanda Sheqiang Shebao Fanzui, Chiqiang Baozha Fanzui An Tongbi Xianzhu Xiajiang [Public Security Organs Strongly Cracking Down on Crimes Involving Guns and Explosives, Such Crimes Significantly Decreased Compared with Previous Years], Xinhuanet (Oct. 18, 2012), http://news.xinhuanet. com/legal/2012-10/18/c_123841645.htm. [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- China Uncovers 670 Gun-Related Crime Dens, Xinhuanet (Jan. 16, 2013), http://news.xinhuanet.com/ english/china/2013-01/16/c_124235386.htm. [Back to Text]
A previous version of this report was prepared by Tao-tai Hsia and Constance A. Johnson of the Law Library staff in May 1997. [Back to Text]
Last Updated: 08/16/2013