Up In Arms

2 minute read
Austin Ramzy

Taiwan has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world. Private ownership of firearms is largely outlawed; people convicted of illegally making, transporting or selling guns can face the death penalty. But several high-profile shootingsincluding a June 16 gun battle between police and suspected kidnappers in Taichung City that left two cops dead, and the March 19 assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bianhave prompted a crackdown on illegal firearms. Over the past several months, more than 90 people suspected of illegal possession have been detained and more than 100 weapons seized. Lawmakers also plan to boost penalties for homemade firearms. (Police say Chen may have been wounded with a homemade pistol.)

Last month, authorities began a three-month amnesty program, promising not to prosecute those who turn in firearms before Sept. 30. So far, 145 guns and a grenade have been handed over. But few expect the grace period will do more than convince a few civilians to come forwardTaiwan’s gangsters won’t be participating. “Most gang members say there are only two things that matter in the Taiwan underworld: money and firepower,” says Ko-lin Chin, a Rutgers University professor who has written extensively about Taiwan’s organized crime. “They won’t hand over what they need for their survival.” True enough. When police in southern Taiwan closed in on fugitive Chang Hsi-ming and three members of his kidnapping ring last week, they were attacked with assault rifles; the criminals held off as many as 1,000 officers for five hours. Four cops were wounded. Chang, who ultimately escaped, was last seen forcing a hostage into a getaway car, toting an M-16 and wearing a bulletproof vest.

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