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The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shocked the world, especially in Japan, where gun rules are strict and shootings are extremely rare.
Abe, who resigned in 2020 due to health problems, was shot dead in the afternoon while speaking at an election rally in the city of Nara on Friday. Police have arrested a suspect and recovered a gun from the scene that appears to have been made at home, broadcaster NHK reports.
Japan has one of the lowest gun ownership and gun violence rates in the world, and is very different from the United States.
For example, in 2021, one person was killed by gun violence in Japan, according to the country’s National Police Agency. Gun violence records record 45,034 U.S. gun deaths that year.
In a country with a gun death rate of 0.01 per 100,000 and a lower homicide rate, Abe’s murder is “almost incomprehensible,” Ian Overton, executive director of the British NGO Action on Armed Violence, wrote in a blog post on Friday.
“With a long tradition of gun control measures, and low killings by gun rates, this shooting will shock Japan not only because of the high profile of the victims, but also because of the rarity of the incident,” he wrote.
Guns in Japan ‘Exceptions, Not Rules’
According to Overton, Japan is the first country in the world to enforce gun laws.
He returns to those 1588 measures to ban the ownership of swords and guns. Centuries of orders were then followed by Western merchants and missionaries to limit the proliferation of guns in the country, turning into federal law in 1958 that banned the ownership of almost all guns and is still in the books today.
“Weapons law begins with ‘No one should carry a gun or a shotgun or a sword or a sword,’ and very few exceptions are allowed,” David Koppel wrote in a 1993 paper. Asia-Pacific Law Review. Koppel, a professor of constitutional law at Denver University Storm College of Law and an assistant scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, described Japan’s gun control measures as “the toughest in the democratic world.”
Japan prohibits private citizens from possessing handguns, and allows licensed hunters and targeted shooters to purchase only guns or air rifles.
With the exception of players over 14 carrying a gun, a person must be 18 years old to carry a gun. The law prohibits people from carrying guns if they have declared bankruptcy.
And in Japan, the police have an unlimited discretion to deny a license to anyone with a valid reason to suspect that it may endanger “another person’s life or property or public peace.” Koppel. He also mentioned the high level of voluntary support of the people in the implementation of gun control measures and police.
“All of this means that Japan is a country where guns are the exception, not the rule,” Action wrote in an overton of armed violence.
According to a tracker at the University of Sydney, Japanese citizens had an estimated 310,400 legal and illegal firearms in 2019, per 126.9 million population – or about 0.25 guns per 100 people.
The same researchers found that the total number of guns in the United States ranged from 265 million to 393 million, and as of 2017 there were an estimated 120.5 weapons per 100 people.
Just as few people in Japan have guns, few are involved in shootings.
In 2018, nine deaths were reported in Japan, including guns and suicides, compared to 39,740 in the United States.
Murders are generally rare in Japan, Overton notes, with a rate of 0.26 per 100,000 in the same year. (US rate was 7.5 per 100,000 as of 2020).
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It takes about 12 steps to buy a gun, and it doesn’t end there
Buying a gun is a long and arduous process with over a dozen steps. These include:
- Join a hunting or shooting club
- Take a gun class
- Pass the written test, as well as the shooting range test with at least 95% accuracy
- Get a doctor’s note that you are mentally fit and have no history of drug dependence
- Apply for a full-day course on how to safely fire and store a gun
- Complete a police interview explaining why you need a gun
- Pass a rigorous background check in which the police review your criminal record, employment history, financial status, and relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.
- Apply for a gunpowder permit
- Get a certificate from a gun dealer describing the gun you want
- Buy a gun safe and ammunition locker that meets safety rules
- Allow the police to inspect your gun storage and do another background check
Notably, most of Japan’s more than 40 provinces have a limit on the number of gun shops that can be operated within each jurisdiction. Most are confined to more than three gun stores, and allow people to buy fresh rounds only after they return the experiments they bought on the last visit.
Once someone is finally able to buy a gun, they must register it with the police and provide them with details on how to store both their weapons and ammunition in a separate, locked box. Going forward, the police should inspect the gun annually and the owner should take the class and the license renewal test every three years. And not only are the rules strict, they are strictly enforced.
In the United States, it is possible to buy a gun in less than an hour after someone has passed an immediate background check.
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Violence is rare in Japan, but it is not uncommon
There have been many mass killings in Japan in recent years, but many do not involve guns. These include the 2008 knife attack in Tokyo, the 2016 knife attack that killed 19 people at an allied care facility, and the 2019 fire attack on an animation studio that killed 34 people.
Political violence is rare in post-war Japan, although there have been some high-profile incidents over the past century, as Reuters notes.
Among them: The leader of the Japan Socialist Party was assassinated by a right-wing youth during a 1960 speech with a samurai short sword, and in 2007 the mayor of Nagasaki was shot dead by a Yakuza thug. Two prime ministers and one deputy prime minister survived. The attacks or shootings in 1975, 1992 and 1994, respectively, the Japan Times reports.
The last time the Japanese prime minister was assassinated was in 1932, when Inukai Suyoshi was shot dead by extremist naval officers in Ku’d’état, now known as the “May 15 Incident.”
Abe’s own grandfather, who served as prime minister from 1957 to 1960, survived an assassination attempt at the end of his term. Nobusuke stabbed Kishi in the thigh during a reception held at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Abe himself was the target of arson attacks early in his political career. Members of the Yakuza group threw Molotov cocktails at his home and supporters’ office on several occasions in 2000.