Strict gun laws mean Japan sees fewer shooting deaths

by

Staff Writer

The number of gun deaths in Japan totaled six in 2014, compared with 33,599 in the United States, according to GunPolicy.org, a website run by the University of Sydney.

While the U.S. is dealing with the aftermath of yet another deadly attack after Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, Japan remains one of the safest countries in the world in terms of gun-related incidents. The number of gun deaths in Japan was the second lowest among 34 OECD member countries after Iceland, while that of the U.S. topped the list, according to the website.

Thanks partly to Japan’s ultra-strict gun-control laws, which ban possessing, carrying, selling or buying handguns or rifles, shooting incidents are rare in the country.

Shigeo Sugawa, an adviser at the Technical Museum of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Ordnance School, said the law probably is one of the strictest in the world. Over the years the law’s properties have been revised, usually after the occurrence of gun-related incidents or the escalation of tensions among gangsters, he said.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of incidents involving guns increased to 27 in 2016 from eight the previous year, mostly because of an escalation of violence between rival yakuza groups. Still, the figure is minute compared to many other countries.

The nation’s postwar gun regulations can be traced back to the Allied Occupation in the 1940s, when the Japanese government was ordered to collect and hand over all guns and swords that were owned or kept by members of the general public, according to the Justice Ministry’s white paper.

Given the order by the Allied Occupation forces, the government issued an ordinance in 1946 prohibiting citizens in principle from possessing guns or swords. The ordinance was renewed in 1950, and later was replaced with the Firearm and Sword Control Law in 1958.

Since then the law has been revised several times, becoming stricter each time.

Under current law, citizens are banned from not only possessing, carrying, selling or buying handguns or rifles but also importing gun parts.

Only licensed hunters are allowed to own shotguns. But the process of screening — including background checks by police and mental and drug tests at hospitals — is very strict.

Even if they obtain license, hunters need to renew their licenses every three years.

“In order to obtain a license, we have to go through a very strict screening process. (Police) even hear the opinions of our families and neighbors, which, I believe, is almost violation of human rights,” said Sugawa, who also is a licensed hunter. “It means that Japanese citizens basically have no rights to possess guns.”

In 2014, Japan had 194,000 licensed hunters, compared to 518,000 in 1975, according to the environment ministry.

The number of licensed firearms in the nation declined to 210,928 in 2016 from 361,402 in 2007, according to the NPA.