With the dreadful mass shooting in Las Vegas a few evenings ago – by someone you can simply call a domestic, white, terrorist – I thought I’d take a look at what the situation is in Japan with gun ownership.
The first bit of good news is the existence of the weapons law of Japan which starts by saying outright:
“No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords”.
Very few exceptions are allowed.
Handgun ownership is out rightly banned, while shotguns and air rifles are allowed for hunting and sport shooting and you can only apply to own a rifle on proof that you have owned a shotgun for 10 years. I’m not entirely sure what the difference between a shotgun and a handgun is but a gun is a gun. Also, people who do own guns and need cartridges must return the spent cartridges to the /a gun shop (of which each prefecture in Japan can have no more than three) in order to be allowed to buy more. A person’s gun or guns have to be kept under lock and key and the police have to be told where it/they are stored.
Not even ordinary cops in Japan use guns that regularly, even though they do carry them. They spend more time on their judo, in which they are all expected to gain a black belt, and practicing Kendo (with wooden swords) than learning how to use the gun they’ll have to carry around. In general, cops leave their guns at the station before heading home in the evening and apparently there is a case of one cop, who used his gun to kill himself while on duty, being charged posthumously with a criminal offence. Yep, they don’t mess around.
Apparently, the Yakuza are the only ones affected (boohoo) though they still manage to find ways of importing them illegally. In general, gun crime in Japan is still one of the lowest in the world and they can also hold their head high for rejecting the idea of gun ownership in the first place. Incidentally, most ordinary folks in Japan are very concerned about the idea being touted for the Self Defence Forces becoming less self-defence and more offence in its structure (even with the current threat from that one particular neighbour).
Anyway, the current gun law has been in force since 1958 but their stringent gun laws go back a long way when in 1685, people were encouraged to hand in their firearms for a reward (I wonder what the reward was?). So, long before 1876, when an Edict called the 廃刀令Haitōrei (the Sword Abolishment Act), banned everyone, bar former Lords (Daimyōs), the military and law enforcement officials, from carrying weapons. Usually it was only samurai and government officials who carried swords by then (maybe because everyone else handed them in back in 1685?), and samurai/government families who owned them, so it was mostly these who were affected by this and other laws – losing their swords, topknots, their identity as warriors. Ordinary farmers and so on were not allowed own arms I’m sure. Feel free to correct me on this. People who made swords on the other hand were obviously going to be inconvenienced!
It’s a pity that samurai swords are still exported from Japan, even if they’re cheap imitations, and used by all kinds of morons (a very American insult I like to use!) in various countries to show off with and/or use for violence towards others, as I’ve often read about in news reports over the years. Japan should try and ban the export of samurai swords, unless they are used for display in museums and then perhaps sent back to Japan.
Where there are large scale attacks or killings in Japan, it’s done with knives (except for the sarin gas attack by the Aum cult in the 90s) and there are unstable people in Japan as there are in many other countries who should not get that far, whatever their choice of weapon. But gun control is one situation where Japan can hold its head high.
I feel so bad for the people killed or injured in Las Vegas, and have real admiration for the police force but also various civilians who risked their own safety to help others.
Let’s not forget the two victims of the attack in Marseille either. Knife attack victims of another terrorist who was luckily prevented from attacking anyone else.