Chinese official shoots city Party boss and mayor

Police attend the scene of a shooting in Panzhihua on Wednesday. Photo: Ifeng News

A senior Sichuan official shot two of his supervisors on Wednesday morning in the middle of a high-level meeting before killing himself, Chinese media report.

Panzhihua land and resources bureau chief Chen Zhongshu fired at the city's Communist Party chief, Zhang Yan, and mayor Li Jianqin before fleeing the scene, according to Shanghai-based news outlet

Zhang and Li sustained minor wounds and Chen was later found dead in the hotel building where the meeting was being held, the report said.

Chen rushed in and fired at the two men while the meeting was under way, the report said.

Both Li and Zhang were sent to hospital, where their wounds were described as not life-threatening.

No motive was given for the attack and it was not clear how Chen obtained the firearm.

The shooting took place just six months after Li, 53, arrived in the city and five after he became mayor.

Li was reassigned to Panzhihua after spending more than 20 years working in the resources sector, including eight years in charge of the internal watchdog office of the Ministry of Land and Resources.

A source told the South China Morning Post that Li was an expert in Chen's professional area and Chen had become a target of investigation before the shooting.

The Southern Metropolis News quoted an unnamed government source as saying that Chen had complained to his friends that Zhang and Li were "ratting on him".

Zhang's official resume includes four years in various corruption-fighting departments.

Chen had worked in the city's anti-corruption department for more than 10 years and received national praise in 2015 for keeping cadres under his watch in line, according to earlier Chinese media reports.

Wednesday's shooting comes as President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign continues its sweep across the country, with officials felled at a rate not seen in decades.

Gun concerns

Wednesday's shooting comes amid a rise in gun-related crimes in China, where Chinese civilians are prohibited from having guns under national law.

The shooting grabbed attention on state and social media. Many expressed surprise, noting that in China, one would have to be a privileged government official to get access to a firearm.

Gun violence and the use of firearms to commit crimes are unusual in China, where rules effectively ban all private ownership and police exercise wide authority to question and detain suspects. Violent crimes tend to be committed with knives or explosives available for mining and road construction.

Government statistics show that the number of violations of controls on firearms and ammunition rising by more than 50 percent in one year, to 81,668 cases in 2015. The national police ministry said in August that overall gun-related crimes are continuing to rise, especially internet sales of guns, "seriously affecting public safety and stability and the people's sense of security."

The shooting on Wednesday landed in the middle of a public debate over guns, after a court last week sentenced the owner of a streetside stall to 3½ years in prison for running a carnival-style game to pop balloons with what authorities said were real firearms. Public outcry ensued, with many arguing that the standard was too low and that the woman, Zhao Chunhua, had been unfairly sentenced.

At issue isn't whether the government should relax the ban on private firearms but whether Chinese regulations define what constitutes a firearm too strictly.

Under current rules, a firearm is defined as a device that can fire with a force in excess of 1.8 joules per square centimeter—much lower than, for example, Canada's standard, which exempts air guns that shoot with less than 5.7 joules of muzzle energy from the country's Firearms Act.

Despite restrictions, handguns, rifles and other firearms still circulate in China. Primary sources include smuggling, theft and lax controls at arsenals and factories producing them for export or law enforcement. Others originate from small-scale workshops forging guns and homemade devices.

The online sale of guns is a recent source of concern. The police ministry announced a nationwide campaign last summer that placed scrutiny on forums and instant messaging services that abet the trade.

China has seen growing ranks of gun buffs, with various Chinese-language publications catering to enthusiasts. The ministry described internet trafficking in guns as "continuously developing and spreading."

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