SHANGHAI - A police investigation that caught a gang allegedly trafficking in firearms and ammunition online in East China's Jiangsu province led to a nationwide crackdown that uncovered 366 cases, the Ministry of Public Security said on Thursday.
It all started in May when police in Jiangsu province found a five-member gang, headed by 31-year-old Zhou Zhaoping from Yixing city, was using the Internet to sell guns and ammunition.
Since May 2008, Zhou published sale information on firearms and ammunition through his three online stores on the China Hunting Forum and QQ groups, said Huang Shihai, the ministry's publicity official, on Thursday.
At his online stores firearms and ammunition all had code names such as plastic pipes, cups and shells to avoid being found by police.
Customers placed orders with Zhou through online instant messaging tools or by phone, and finished transactions online.
When police in Wuxi city, Jiangsu province, detained Zhou on June 8, he had sold 57 hunting guns, more than 100,000 gun parts and 240 kg of explosives to customers from 28 provinces and cities, Huang said.
Zhou told police that at first he bought and resold gun parts. But later, driven by huge profits - several thousand yuan profit on one gun - he began to ask different factories to process the gun parts for him and he and his partners assembled the parts into guns for sale.
He also learned from the Internet how to make gunpowder.
Police investigations found that more than 1,500 people had discussed with Zhou the trading of guns and ammunition.
To detain those who were suspected of trading with Zhou, police in 30 provinces joined in a nationwide campaign from June to November.
They uncovered 366 cases, detained 548 suspects, stamped out four major cross-regional gangs and destroyed 21 hidden shelters engaged in illegal ammunition manufacturing.
Meanwhile, police seized 590 guns, 940 kg of explosives, and 150,000 bullets, according to ministry statistics.
Manufacturing, owning, transporting, renting or selling firearms and ammunition are crimes in China.
Anyone convicted of such crimes faces three to seven years in jail and could face a death sentence in serious circumstances.
In recent years, the Internet has been used more frequently for such illegal transactions, Dong Chuanhua, a senior official from the security management bureau under the ministry, said on Thursday.
Dong cited ministry statistics showing that the trafficking of guns and ammunition decreased by 32.5 percent this year compared with 2009, and that most deals were done over the Internet.
"The Internet can spread information widely and quickly. It is a secretive method, making illegal deals difficult for the police to discover," Dong said.
In the future, police will focus on "clearing up the Internet environment" and "supervising website management to detect more clues online", he said.