Illegal E-Commerce: Buying Guns Online in China is Apparently Pretty Easy


Like many of our readers, I was intrigued by my colleague Enricko's recent post on an Indonesian e-commerce site selling guns online. I have often seen it said that it's equally easy to find guns online in China, despite the fact that guns are not legal for citizens to own. But is that really the case? I decided to test things for myself, and set out on a quest to buy a gun online in China. (Of course, I never really planned to actually purchase a gun; that would be illegal and stupid. But I wanted to see how far I could get).

I started out the same way any Chinese net user probably would: I searched for "where to buy guns" on Baidu. The results were disappointing. Even after spending a lot of time filtering through pages of results and playing with the search terms, I hadn't found anything all that promising. In fact, the only leads I found were sketchy BBS threads about where to buy guns that often ended with a QQ number and a (probably fake) name. Still, it was better than nothing, so I registered a new QQ account (using a throwaway email) and added some supposed gun-runners to my friends list.

While I wanted for those reputable gentlemen to get back to me on QQ, I figured I'd try a Google search. Most gun-related Baidu searches had resulted in a disclaimer that in accordance with Chinese law, some of the search results had been hidden. I figured those were probably exactly the results I was looking for, and probably wouldn't hide them. I was right. Immediately I found much more thorough BBS posts with phone numbers, gun models, and price lists. I even found an ecommerce site called QiangAK ("Gun AK") that appears to sell real guns and bullets in addition to its more prominently-advertised Airsoft guns. It was hard to be sure if they were for real, though, so I added that shopkeep to my QQ list too.

I didn't get any response at all from the supposed gun sellers I found via Baidu, but the guy behind QiangAK did get back to me, and informed me that guns like the one pictured above are both real and very much for sale. As he pointed out, they're marked as "military-use" guns, but I can't imagine the Chinese military really buys its weapons from this site, or that it encourages officers to buy extra weapons on the side. Moreover, he didn't seem to care whether or not I was in the military -- he was just pointing out that all the guns marked "military use" were real guns, as opposed to airsoft guns. Not wanting to actually commit any crimes, I didn't attempt to buy any guns, but it certainly felt like I could have.

When I began research for this post, I was imagining it as a piece that would debunk the idea that guns are easy to buy online in China. But my experience seems to indicate that it really is pretty easy to find guns to buy. If a non-native Chinese speaker who knows nothing about guns like me was able to find all of this stuff in just a few hours, it's hard to imagine Chinese people having much trouble with it.

Of course, there's a big difference between finding somebody willing to sell a gun and actually buying one. For all I know, the guy behind QiangAK is really an undercover cop who would have tried to arrest me if I had attempted to go through with buying a gun. Or maybe he would have insisted I provide proof of a military or police ID. Maybe buying guns isn't as easy as it looks. But I can't shake the feeling that if I could find a gun seller online with search engines and just a few hours, a dedicated Chinese web user wouldn't have much trouble finding a seller online.

Thankfully, it seems that the vast majority of China's web users aren't trying to buy guns in the first place. Privately-owned guns remain quite rare in China, and sketchy online gun sellers are probably filling a small niche selling guns to organized crime rather than loading up the average Zhou for a rampage.

Still, it's interesting that on China's heavily controlled internet, finding guns was so easy. Using just Baidu and Google, I was able to find links to gun sellers. I get the feeling that if I had been searching for something political like "Tiananmen 1989" instead of "real guns," I might actually have had a harder time finding what I was looking for.

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