In 2014, an 18-year-old man in the province of Fujian, southeastern China, was caught by local customs authorities after he bought 24 air guns online via a Taiwanese seller.
While Liu Dawei was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 and appealed earlier this year, the case was only reported recently.
What ensnared Liu is a 2008 law that redefined a “firearm” as being any device that can fire a projectile with more than 1.8 joules of force per square centimeter (about 0.15 square inches). Previously, the limit was 16 joules per square centimeter; the current limit in Hong Kong is 7 joules and 20 joules in Taiwan.
According to the state-run People’s Net, the charge of gun smuggling is punishable by death, but the judge decided to reduce it to a life sentence on account of Liu’s youth.
“I’m not an expert,” Liu said. “It’s almost impossible for ordinary people like me to know of such standards.”
During the case Liu’s lawyer argued before the Fujian Quanzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court that “the energy of 1.8 joules per square centimetre is like throwing a handful of beans across a table at someone,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Liu, meanwhile, was distraught. According to People’s Net, he shouted at the prosecution that he would accept guilt if they could manage to shoot him dead using the guns, which resemble Russian sniper rifles, but pack demonstrably less punch.
According to Procuratorial Daily, a Chinese state-run legal publication, Liu’s appeal was rejected by the highest court of Fujian Province. The youth will now be serving jail time with hardened criminals.