China

Orlando shootings: Why 2014 Kunming stabbing is being linked to gun debate

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 13: A woman lights a candle during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, at Oxford St on June 13, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption While the victims are still being remembered, the gun debate rages on

In the wake of the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub and the debate over gun control in the US, many people online have been sharing a 2014 story about a knife attack in China that killed 29 people.

The BBC News article from that time started being shared on social media the day after the attack with some saying it proved guns were not to blame for the mass killing.

Many apparently thought the attack had just happened.

By Friday it was on the BBC website's Most Popular list and had amassed almost 440,000 hits. More than 80% of those views came from the US and Canada.

Why did this happen?

In recent years, older stories have often become very closely related to a news event, as was the case with the Paris attacks in 2015.

Then, nearly seven million people clicked on a BBC story from much earlier in the year about an attack at a Kenyan university that killed 147 people. That story was again being shared after Orlando.

A story about a suicide blast that killed 41 people in Beirut was also widely shared after the Paris attack, largely generated by a debate about why Paris had received more attention from Western media.

But the reference to the mass killing in Kunming, southern China appeared initially to be a rebuttal to those who have argued for stricter gun laws after Orlando.

Early posts - which didn't just link to the BBC - made it clear it had happened in 2014, but said it was proof gun control alone cannot stop mass killings.

Image copyright @johnwayneburrr/Twitter
Image copyright @Chassit/Twitter
Image copyright @spiritofshiloh/Twitter

In later days though, many people seem to have missed that it is a story from 2014, and the BBC story started being widely shared as if it had just happened.

What happened in Kunming?

The Kunming attack on 1 March 2014 happened at the city's railway station. A group of men and women attacked passengers with long-bladed knives.

Four attackers were left dead, along with the 29 people they killed, while 140 were injured.

Image copyright AFP

No group claimed responsibility, but China's official Xinhua news agency said within hours it had been carried out by Xinjiang separatist terrorists. Four people were later jailed.

Xinjiang is a restive region in the far west of China, home to the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority.

The Uighurs have long complained of discrimination by Beijing. A separatist movement has sporadically flared into deadly violence.

But Beijing has been accused of exaggerating the threat, in order to justify repression in the region.

Here are some stories we've written before on the issue:

The endless gun debate

Between 2010 and 2012, there was also a spate of mass stabbings, hammer and cleaver attacks at schools in China. About 25 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Some of them were blamed on mental health problems of the attackers or problems caused by rapid social change in the country.

At that time there were comparisons drawn between the US - where the Sandy Hook school shooting happened in 2012 - and China, and the difference in gun control laws.

China heavily regulates the ownership of guns, while US gun laws, always debated after a mass shooting, are unlikely to change.

Some of the responses to posts have argued that if the perpetrators had had access to guns the death toll would have been much higher.

Others questioned that logic, saying that if you start to argue knives are the same as guns, then perhaps vehicles should be banned since road accidents cause far more deaths around the world than guns or knives.

Others argued that had the teachers at the schools in China had guns, the children might have been protected. Or if more people at the Orlando nightclub had guns, fewer than 49 people might have died.

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