Gun Control Laws: a comparison of Hong Kong and the United States

A Colt AR-15, assault weapon used during the Parkland shooting (Photo by steevithak / CC BY)

On February 16, The Boston Globe’s front page published an all too common and increasingly familiar pattern of a mass shooting in the United States: he will be a man, having purchased a semiautomatic rifle legally, opening fire into a crowd of innocent individuals, followed by numerous news outlets covering the tragedy and superficial thoughts and prayers from politicians. Some will not mention guns at all.

From learning how to perform a classroom lockdown, to reading about another mass shooting on the front page of The New York Times, I’ve come to normalize this American tragedy since a young age. As readers, the only things we don’t know, as the Boston Globe points out, is who the shooter is, where it will happen next, and how many lives will be lost?

So, I ask, how do gun control laws in the United States compare to Hong Kong? Compiling media reports, national databases, and gun acquisition laws reveals a shocking side-by-side comparison.

A fundamental difference is the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law in Hong Kong. This difference does not make Hong Kong an exception, as there are only three countries that protects this right in their constitution, rather, it points to the exceptionality of the United States in being one of the few countries with a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Purchasing a gun in the United States is not difficult. There are many loopholes, and firearm buyers can simply bypass many of them by crossing state lines. Vox succinctly covers how gun control works – or doesn’t – in America relative to four comparably rich countries.

Simply put, German Lopez summarizes, “If you want to buy a gun in America, there’s almost certainly a way to do just that.”

Firearm ownership in Hong Kong is tightly controlled, and possession is at the discretion of law enforcement, military, and private security firms, who provide protection for jewelers and banks.

According to Section 13 of the Cap 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance, a firearm owner has to obtain a license for both firearms and ammunition. The separate permit to purchase ammunition poses an additional barrier on how much ammo a firearm owner can buy. In the United States, you do not need a license to obtain ammunition in most states.

Under the same Ordinance, any person who violates this law is subject to a fine of $100,000 HKD and to imprisonment for 14 years. In a 2012 compilation of the penalties for illegal handgun possession by-state, many states only fine up to $5000 USD and five years maximum for carrying a firearm illegally.

Under the Hong Kong Police’s arms application notes, to even be considered for a license, you need to be a member of a shooting club with the sponsorship of two life members of the respective club.

For an “Ordinary Member” applicant in the Hong Kong Gun Club, applicants must have completed a basic firearm safety course and pay an admissions fee of $150,000 HKD, in addition to an annual subscription fee of $7,200 HKD. The arms under application is restricted to use only for the purposes of recreation, sport and competition. Therefore, gun owners must pay additional fees to store the gun and ammunition at the shooting club.

Factoring in the high cost of living, the licensing, processing and shooting club membership fees (assuming you get accepted), the actual cost of firearms and ammunition, in addition to the maintenance and storage of your possessions, it is highly unlikely for any Hong Kongers to own a gun.

For Massachusetts residents without a criminal background, like me, a Firearms Identification (FID) is required to purchase, possess, and carry any type of firearm and ammunition, which is valid for six years. A FID only costs $100 USD.

Considering the administration’s unwavering conservative political views and the United States’ anomalous obsession with the right to bear arms, perhaps turning an eye to Hong Kong’s gun control practices of imposing heavy fees and taxes isn’t too far-fetched as a tangible solution to this problem.


Editor: Justin Chatman
Author: Wilson Wong
Copy Editor: Kinnie Li
Content Manager: Emily Peng

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