The shooting death Friday of Japan’s former leader Shinzo Abe was all the more shocking because the nation prides itself on having s
The shooting death Friday of Japan’s former leader Shinzo Abe was all the more shocking because the nation prides itself on having some of the strictest gun-control laws in the world.
Citizens are almost completely forbidden from owning firearms, and hunters have to go through a battery of restrictive tests, including classes, written exams and mental-health evaluations — even just to shoot at clay targets.
The law was set in 1958, stating that “no one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords” — the complete opposite of the Second Amendment in the US and its right to “keep and bear arms.”
They are “the first nation to impose gun laws in the whole world,” Iain Overton, the author of “Gun Baby Gun,” tweeted Friday.
“I think it laid down a bedrock saying that guns really don’t play a part in civilian society,” he said.
It has created a society where “gun violence is very, very rare,” Satona Suzuki, a London-based lecturer in Japanese history, told The Washington Post.
“They’ll be scared, but it’s not like America. It’s not crazy gunmen going to schools or malls,” she said.
Despite being a country of 125 million, Japan last year saw just 10 gun-related criminal cases last year — with only one fatality and four injuries, according to the National Policy Agency.
All but two of those were also gang-related, with most of the rare shootings linked to “yakuza” gangsters using illegal weapons.
In the capital, Tokyo — a condensed city of nearly 14 million — there were zero gun incidents, injuries or deaths last year.
The last time a high-profile shooting occurred was in 2019, when a former gang member was shot at a karaoke venue in Tokyo.
The rarity of such crimes explains why Abe and his entourage appeared unconcerned when the first shot rang out Friday, with the former leader casually turning toward the noise before being cut down by a second blast.
It also explains why the killer — identified as 41-year-old military veteran Tetsuya Yamagami — used a crude homemade weapon, which only fired twice in a few seconds.
In fact, the weapon was so rudimentary it was comparable to a Civil War-era musket, according to N.R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of Armament Research Services, a specialist arms investigations firm — a vast cry from rapid-firing semi-automatic rifle commonly used in US mass shootings.
“Firearms legislation in Japan is very restrictive, so I think what we’re seeing here, with what’s probably a muzzle-loading weapon, is not just an attempt to circumvent the control of firearms, but also the strict control of ammunition in Japan,” Jenzen-Jones said.
The fact that he was forced to make such a simplistic weapon “actually shows the extent that Japan gun laws are working,” Daniel Foote, a professor at the University of Tokyo specializing in law and society, told Bloomberg.
“Very few people have the ability to create such a weapon,” he stressed.
Under Japanese law, possession of firearms — as well as certain kinds of knives and other weapons, like bowguns — is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also forbidden.
Those who wish to own firearms must go through a stringent background check, including clearance by a medical doctor who tests for detect mental illnesses, as well as drug use.
The police then investigate the prospective gun owner’s background, including their relatives’ backgrounds.
The police can deny licenses if there are any reasonable grounds the applicant may endanger the lives of others, said Overturn, who also heads Action on Armed Violence.
They must also pass tests to show they know how to use firearms correctly, and — if approved — must buy a special locking system for the weapon at the same time as they buy the gun.
Passing all those hurdles will allow that person to shoot at clay targets. Hunting requires an additional special license.
“All of this means Japan is very much a country where the gun is the exception, not the rule,” said Overton.
Dave Kopel, a National Rifle Association member who called Japan’s laws “oppressive” in a 1993 study, said that Japanese cops also have ” broad search and seizure powers.”
He also said that because police are “so esteemed … the Japanese people co-operate with their police more than Americans do.”
“The Japanese people, and even the large majority of Japanese criminals, voluntarily obey the gun controls,” Kopel wrote.
All of this has left the country “in a state of shock” after Abe’s assassination, according to Shiro Kawamoto, professor at the College of Risk Management at Nihon University in Tokyo.
“This serves as a wake-up call that gun violence can happen in Japan, and security to protect Japanese politicians must be re-examined,” he said.
“To assume this kind of attack will never happen would be a big mistake.”
With Post wires