When 18-year-old Liu Dawei ordered 24 toy gun replicas from a Taiwanese website, in July 2014, he never imagined the purchase would soon land him in prison for the rest of his life.
Liu never even got the fake firearms he paid 30,540 RMB ($4,600) for, as his mail order was held at customs. Instead, police soon arrived at the front door of his home in Quanzhou city and arrested him for arms trafficking. According to the official police statement, they had intercepted his package and found that 20 of the 24 gun replicas were actually real guns. That sounds like a perfectly good explanation for the boy’s arrest, but only until you learn about what qualifies as a real gun in China.
Chinese law classifies any weapon with a barrel that can fire an object at 1.8 j/cm2 as a real gun. During Liu Dawei’s trial, his lawyer argued that that is roughly the speed at which he could throw a handful of beans at someone’s face, and that the country’s current definition of an actual firearm simply makes no sense. Liu himself claimed that he had no idea that he would be breaking the law when he ordered the replicas, and that he thought he was merely buying a bunch of toys.
Liu’s “real” guns/Photo: Chinanews
Unfortunately for Liu Dawei, a judge sentenced him to life in prison, on April 30th, 2015. The minimum punishment for gun trafficking in China is 7 years in prison, but because the young man had technically been caught acquiring 20 “real” guns, the judge in the case believed that the death penalty was the most appropriate. However, after taking into consideration that Liu was only 18 when he placed the order for the guns, he decided to be lenient and reduced his sentence to life in prison.
That obviously didn’t make Liu Dawei much happier, and he reportedly shouted “Please shoot me dead with the guns I bought! If I die, I’ll admit I’m guilty,” after hearing the verdict. He has since then appealed the court’s decision up to the Fujian Higher People’s Court, which accepted the appeal in April.
Liu Dawei’s tragic story sparked a debate in China, with experts claiming that authorities need to reevaluate the standard for judging what qualifies as a real gun. In Hong Kong, for example, that standard is 7.077 j/cm2, while in Taiwan it’s 20k/cm2. Even in mainland China, the standard was 16 j/cm2, until it was brought down to 1.8 j/cm2, in 2008.