— Erin Hale (@erinhale) September 29, 2014
In the wake of March’s Kunming train station terrorist attack, in which 33 people died, the Chinese government decided to provide guns to the country’s previously unarmed patrol officers. William Wan warns that “the flood of newly armed police — combined with poor training and the government’s take-no-prisoners attitude – could become as fearful a problem as the terrorism it is intended to combat”:
China’s removal of a ban on police guns came in response to a gruesome attack on a train station several hundred miles from here, but it has given the police almost blanket authority to shoot whenever they see fit. … In the latest police-related violence, at least 40 people died [two Sundays ago] in China’s restive Xinjiang region, according to state-run news media, which attributed the incident to terrorists and identified the deceased as “rioters” shot by police or killed in explosions. By contrast, the sleepy village of Luokan is about as remote and unlikely a place for terrorism as can be found. Yet when police fatally shot a man recently in the middle of a busy market here, they declared him a terrorist as well and abruptly closed the case.
Wan and Xu Jing observe that many newly armed officers express “a surprising aversion” to their guns:
“I’ve never liked guns,” said one nine-year veteran. Until this year, guns were forbidden to most police – except for SWAT units and teams on special missions. “Even in past special operations, when we were ordered to have guns, I let co-workers take them instead. You have to worry about it misfiring, about it getting stolen or someone dying improperly.”
A retired officer from Hangzhou City suggested there’re tricky issues of pride at play. In the past, police were praised for daring to confront criminals without firearms, he said. And whenever bad guys got away or a situation spiraled out of control, police could always fall back on the excuse that they were unarmed, unlike police in many countries. “Now that they have guns, they’re in a tighter spot,” said the retired officer. “If you shoot, the public may question whether it was necessary. If you don’t, they may say, ‘You can’t even control criminals with the power of a gun?'”