Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #12: Firearms

As I venture outside of campus, it is hard to walk for one minute without passing by a man or woman squatting on the edge of the sidewalk with a sheet spread out in front of them on which an array of carefully arranged items rest. These are what I have dubbed the "sidewalk salesmen" (or "sidewalk salespeople" for the p.c. police).

These items range from electronics, like mp3 players, to hand-made crafts, like bags, to no-one-could-possibly-ever-pay-money-for-this stuff, like used pencils (sold individually, I might add),  to hand-held accessories, like...


When I first came across people selling guns on the street two things came to mind.

1.) This is illegal.
2.) Does everyone have a gun?

As a matter of fact, guns are illegal in China. Citizens aren't allowed to possess guns. Furthermore, hunting is illegal. There are no kinds of permits that allow ordinary people to carry firearms.

What makes these scenes even more strange (and frightening) is that the guns aren't limited to small hand-helds. There are submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, and even sniper rifles. During my first few weeks here, every Sunday morning on my way to church I would walk across an overpass lined with people selling guns. There must have been ten different people selling them. After a couple of weeks I decided to take my camera, but they were gone. I figured they had to keep on the move so that they didn't get caught.

Call me gullible, but for over a month I thought all of this was real -- an underground gun market. Then one day I expressed my concern to one of my Chinese friends, only to be comforted by almost uncontrollable laughter. It turns out they are all fake.

At least some of them (like the ones pictured above) shoot BBs (still dangerous in my book). Though, I'm puzzled by the larger guns, such as the sniper rifles. A sniper BB rifle is a pretty hardcore BB gun. Perhaps some of them are just for show.

But one thing is certain:  they all look genuine. Not one of them is painted neon green or orange. Even more surprising is that the main consumers appear to be children. Even after discovering that the guns aren't real, it is still frightening to come across an 8-year-old boy running around with an AK-47.

Still, I can't blame them. I most certainly would have bought one (or two, or three) if I grew up here. 

This boy and his friends all bought their own guns. Actually, even more concerning, their parents probably bought the guns for them. They go on "missions" together.

I wanted to get a picture of them all together, but recently they swapped their guns for roller-blades. Maybe it was just a fad?

But the guns have their own share of adult fans, too. I really wish I had my camera with me two weeks ago. I was walking up a long, uphill street when all of a sudden a grown, 26-ish-year-old man came running full-speed down the middle of the street holding a giant sniper rifle.  China never gets boring.

But some guys think it's a bother to carry around a 4-foot-long gun. After all, they don't conceal well. That is when a glock comes in handy.

Still, I wonder. Could it be that there are legitimate guns secretly mingled with the decoys? Could this all be an underground, international conspiracy to arm the nations most dangerous criminals?

When I tried to take a picture of the guns one man was selling, he freaked out, put his hand over my camera, and started yelling at me. Since that incident, I haven't seen anyone selling guns. Everyone is gone again.

What a coincidence.

On another note, does anyone have any suggestions how to get a small rifle through airport security? Surely they'll believe me when I assure them that it's not real, right?

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