Japan has almost eradicated gun crime with one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world, after countries like South Korea, Mongolia and Romania. In 2014, the East Asian Island recorded just six gun deaths, attributed to its extremely stringent gun laws.

Firearm Regulations In Japan

While handguns are banned in Japan, shotguns and air rifles are allowed. The number of gun shops are also severely restricted. Likewise, users hoping to purchase a gun must attend an all-day class after which they must take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test, scoring 95 percent or above.

Gun owners in Japan can only purchase new gun cartridges after spent ones from their last visit are returned. They must also notify the police of where they store their gun and ammunition, and subject their guns to yearly police inspections. For good measure, they must store their guns and ammunition separately under lock and key and inform the police of exactly where they keep these in their homes.

Japan’s History Of Gun Control

Dr Alan Cummings, Associate Head of Department of East Asian Languages and Culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, explained that: “Control of weapons is a very long standing public policy in Japan.”

“Going back to the late 16th century when there were edicts issued to confiscate swords from the hands of commoners in order to create a clear class delineation between farmers and artisans and the warrior class. Warriors were permitted short and long swords in public through the 17th, 18th and most of the 19th century, but other classes were forbidden to do so.

“Laws were issued in the 1870s to ban the carrying of all swords in public, as part of the creation of the modern state and the abolition of samurai status. These laws were strengthened after the war in 1945, when the US Occupation instigated laws (and essentially pressurized the Japanese government) to remove all weaponry, firearms as well as most swords, from the Japanese. The Occupation authorities were of course concerned about possible resistance,” Cummings explained.

“Over a period of six months or so, millions of weapons of all types (pistols, rifles, swords, bayonets, etc.) were removed from their owners. The only exceptions were for hunting rifles and swords of artistic quality. You can also see these laws as an attempt to entirely demilitarize Japan, and therefore linked to Article 9 of the postwar Japanese constitution, the so-called peace clause. Subsequent laws have generally strengthened these restrictions,” he added.

The Many Tests To Own A Gun In Japan

Under these restrictions, users must take a mental health test, a drug test and a criminal record check to successfully apply for a firearm. The police carry out additional background checks on applicants’ relatives and work colleagues and look for any links the applicant has to extremist groups.

“Japan was pressurized into [stringent weapons restrictions] immediately after the defeat in WW2,” Cummings explained. “But there is a wider question of why Japan has never seriously attempted to relax these laws.

“The answer to that is obviously much more complex, and as well as the political expediency of having an acquiescent population, there is also Japan’s post-war image of itself as a society that has renounced violence following the trauma of the [Second World War] defeat.

“My sense is that there is very little interest in Japan from citizens in owning guns. There has long been trust that crime should be dealt with by the police and the judiciary. Even the juries have only existed in Japan for ten years now, since 2009. Guns are generally not as frequently glamorized by the media and entertainment industry as in other countries. Shooting and hunting are not common pastimes. The prevalence of guns in other countries, like the US, is not seen as enviable but rather as a source of fear, and there is a very long memory for incidents such as the shooting of the Japanese student Yoshihisa Hattori in Baton Rouge in 1992.”

Martial Arts Instead Of Guns

In law enforcement, Japanese police officers rarely use guns. All are trained in martial arts, however, including judo and kendo. Similarly, crime in Japan is rarely executed using guns.

“Guns are not frequently used by yakuza, particularly not against ‘civilians’ or the police,” Cummings clarified. “If they are used, it is almost always by gang members against other gang members. The statistics bear this out. For example, in 2018 there were eight homicides in Japan, all of which involved yakuza. There were just eight armed robberies involving a firearm, two of which were yakuza-related. The last time there was a major yakuza shooting war was in the mid-1980s. Intimidation, destruction of property, and the threat of violence are used far more commonly used by the yakuza than guns.”

Japan’s Remaining Violence Problems Hit Close To Home

Gun crime and violence has been near-eradicated in Japan, leaving the nation to tackle another form of violence and criminal behaviour: domestic violence, sexual violence against women, “random acts of violence against total strangers (sometimes against children), and familial violence, with children killing their parents or vice-versa.

“Japan definitely has a problem with domestic and sexual violence which for a long time went largely unreported because of multiple gendered, social, and legal factors,” Cumming said, adding “that has started to change more recently, with changes in awareness, in reporting, and in the legal responses (for example new laws over the past twenty years on stalking, spousal abuse, and so on). The difference is that there doesn’t seem to be any association at all in Japan between guns and masculinity.”

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