A pro-independence student charged with possessing an imitation firearm near a protest site has said he brought the air gun to use in self-defence against anti-independence protesters.

Lau Hong, 16, was arrested last December after being searched by police at the intersection between Tim Mei Avenue and Harcourt Road near the Legislative Council demonstration area. Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists were on the scene protesting against proposed changes to the council’s Rules of Procedures.

Lau told the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday that he bought the toy gun from a newspaper stand in the first half of 2016, and that it was worth around HK$30.

Lau Hong
Lau Hong. Photo: Screenshot.

He said he read about fights near his home and school, and incidents of anti-independence protesters attacking pro-independence advocates. Therefore he said he often brought the toy gun with him for self-defence purposes, and it was unrelated to protest at the legislature.

He said that, although he opposed the changes to the legislature’s rules, he was only at the protest site to take photos and planned to upload them to Wikipedia. He said he was wearing a mask because he was suffering from a common cold.

Breach of the peace

The prosecution argued that Lau intended to threaten or attack other people at the protest site with the air gun. They said the case amounted to more than self-defence and could have caused a breach of the peace.

Lau said he did not intend to harm public safety or commit any unlawful acts. “The toy gun can cause little damage, it is impossible to cause a breach of the peace,” he said, according to Stand News.

Louise Ng, a police forensic firearms examination expert, said at the hearing on Monday that the air gun’s size and the energy of the plastic balls that it shoots were within the legal parameters of the law. She said the gun’s shape was common and could be commonly bought at stores.

eastern law court
File photo: Eastern Law Courts Building.

In the closing submission, Lau’s lawyer said the intention of the law was to punish those who own imitation firearms for unlawful use, but Lau, who did not have a criminal record, only had a toy gun that could be bought from stationery stores for a few dollars.

His lawyer said the toy gun had a low damage output as he asked the magistrate to consider his client’s age and background, since Lau was only 16 and may lack maturity. His lawyer admitted Lau may look suspicious by possessing an air gun in public, but said he was unlikely to commit any crime.

Magistrate Veronica Heung will hand down a decision on August 22.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.