• Kyodo

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The Tochigi Prefectural Government received a court order Thursday to pay 47 million yen in damages to two families for giving a gun permit to a man who shot their relatives, one fatally.

Presiding Judge Setsuo Fukushima of the Utsunomiya District Court said giving the gun license to the man was illegal because the shooting had been “predictable,” especially by police officers who had intervened in disputes between the two female victims and the man, who were neighbors.

The families had sought a combined 77 million yen in damages from Tochigi Prefecture, the chairman of the prefectural public safety commission and prefectural police officers.

Kimiko Tanaka, 60, and Shizuko Ebinuma, 56, were shot by the man, whose name has not been made public, in their neighborhood in Utsunomiya in July 2002. Tanaka died and Ebinuma was seriously injured. The shooter killed himself shortly after the incident.

The man got the gun license for skeet shooting from the public safety commission June 3, 2002, one month before the shootings.

The judge said the police misread the facts when deciding to issue the permit.

“The man applied for a gun license for the purpose of assaulting the housewives. The police officers who were in charge could have foreseen that the housewives stood a chance of being assaulted if they allowed the possession of the gun,” Fukushima said in handing down the ruling.

“There is causal relation between the unlawful act by the police officers in charge and the damages suffered, as the permit lacked legitimacy in view of socially accepted standards, and the degree of the officer’s unlawfulness and negligence in their duties is large.”

In the ruling, the judge said the dispute between the man and Tanaka was “not something that was commonly observed” among neighbors in a community.

Judge Fukushima determined that the man had an intent to assault her when the gun permit was issued, citing an incident that took place a year before the incident in which the victim was narrowly hit by a car he was driving.

Since 2000, Tanaka had repeatedly sought advice from authorities, including the local police, about her trouble with the man. She also installed security cameras to prevent any potential harassment, the ruling said.

The judge said that despite such facts, the police officer who screened the man’s gun license application only interviewed him and did not perform a background check or talk with his neighbors.

The family members filed the lawsuit in March 2004, claiming the incident occurred because the prefectural public safety commission accepted the man’s application for a shotgun license without conducting a sufficient background check.

“The prefectural police, who were aware of trouble in the neighborhood for a long time, allowed the man to possess a gun even though they could have foreseen the man would cause the incident,” the plaintiffs argued.

The prefecture denied responsibility, saying it conducted the necessary checks and determined there was nothing disqualifying him from a permit.

The family members filed a criminal complaint in January 2005 with prosecutors against the chief of the prefectural public safety commission and police officers for professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Prosecutors did not pursue the case.

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